Dr. Walt Cooper
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There has been a lot of media attention and political controversy surrounding the Common Core Standards. In fact, Colorado lawmakers recently rejected a bill, after hours of passionate debate, by Common Core opponents that would have delayed implementation of the standards and subsequent assessments. And while the Common Core “Standards” seem to garner the greatest negative attention, what I believe is at the root of the controversy are the assessments associated with the standards, not the standards themselves.
To understand this point, it is helpful to understand the history of educational standards in Colorado. Standards for student learning are not new in our state. Initiated by state law in 1993, Colorado undertook a large-scale effort to update these standards beginning in 2008. The newly revised “Colorado Academic Standards” naturally covered all core academic areas but also included world languages, music, health and physical education, visual arts, drama, etc.
Development of these revised Colorado standards was well under way long before the Common Core hit the scene, and these standards still exist today. When the Colorado State Board of Education subsequently decided to adopt the Common Core standards in 2010 (as part of a failed attempt to grab federal funding through the Race to the Top grant program), a process was designed to maintain the integrity of our locally developed Colorado Academic Standards and only fill in any “gaps” that may have existed between the Colorado standards and the Common Core, and only in the areas of reading, writing, communications, and math. So, at least in Colorado’s case, the vast majority of the standards to which we will teach would have been in place even if the Common Core had never surfaced.
However, on the assessment side of the equation, a similar local involvement was not present. In 2012, in order to comply with state legislation that required Colorado join a multi-state assessment consortium, the State Board of Education voted to join 17 other states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which will administer a host of assessments aligned with the Common Core Standards beginning in 2015. As I wrote in a previous column, the sheer number of additional assessments and onerous nature of the test administration would likely cause great controversy by themselves, but the void of local involvement in developing and or vetting the assessments only fuels the debate.
Few would question the need to have strong and reliable measures of accountability, but at what cost? There is some potentially good news on the horizon, however, as both state legislators and Department of Education officials are openly taking notice. In a recent interview, State Rep. and House Education Committee Chair Millie Hamner noted, “This issue (testing) has been escalating and escalating, and I think we’ve reached the tipping point.” It is our best hope that this tipping point results in a much more strategic and measured approach to mandated assessments at the state level.