Common Core: we need to fight the testing system, not the curriculum

2nd May 2016 at 13:00
US politicians don't understand the issue with Common Core. It’s not the content, it’s the testing.

Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, where I teach, seems a bit confused about Common Core State Standards.

In 2010, New Jersey was among dozens of US states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. Mr Christie was the governor who made that decision.

But by 2015, when he embarked upon his doomed presidential campaign, he had changed his tune. Despite pushing the Common Core on to teachers, he decided he had “grave concerns” about it.

Indeed, he is a key backer of the presidential bid of Donald Trump, who has vowed to abolish the Common Core, even though it is not within the federal government’s power to do so. Mr Trump, you see, is a bit confused about things, too.

Wrong target

The confusion does not end here. I’ve followed the Common Core in my high school English lessons for six years: the standards are generic, widely accepted and make sense. Mr. Christie seems to think that if we scrapped the Common Core, all would be different. But even if we had to rewrite the standards on a local level, we would come up with a nearly identical document.

And the Common Core is far from representing federal intervention in local issues: by simply writing standards and asking states to voluntarily agree to follow them, it does not mean we are living in a country of increased federal government control.

What really showcased Mr Christie’s confusion, however, was his decision that we should scrap Common Core, but keep the tests that came with it. Common Core is relatively harmless without the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test: the computer-based test designed to assess whether students have learned the Common Core Standards.

We experienced first-hand what this multi-million dollar testing system bought us when they rolled out the unproven PARCC test: it was too confusing and took up valuable classroom time. Testing is done on computers over the course of two weeks, and although this year the tests have been reduced by 90 minutes, the math and language arts tests for high school students will be over nine hours long. Every laptop, computer, and quiet room in the school will be used for testing. We will have no access to the library or technology resources, and are dreading testing next month. 

If we really want to improve New Jersey schools, Mr Christie must get to grips with the real issues facing teachers when it comes to Common Core, rather than looking to score political points. It’s not the content, it’s the testing. We need to start encouraging students to opt out of the tests, stop attaching the test to graduation in any way and keep scores out of teachers’ evaluations.​

Rebecca McGrath is a high school teacher in New Jersey.

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