Thoughts about the Common Core Curriculum, Standardized Testing, and Accountabilty

Testing and assessment are hot-button issues nationwide. Most everyone has strong feelings on standardized testing, the common core state standards, and accountability. I would like to point out the benefits and the problems surrounding these issues in light of some key assumptions about learning and mastery.

Making Explicit some Key Assumptions (and CAP, HHH)

Learning and mastery is complex. First, knowledge and skills are acquired when the learner is able to (cognitively and physically) and wants to (affectively) achieve them—when there is an adequate match of the input to the learner’s CAP–cognitive, psychomotor, and affective domains. More simply, we could say that successful instruction, testing, and policy need adequate match to the head (cognitive), heart (affective), and hands (psychomotor) of each learner.

Second, all people are learners. Thus, the first principle–learning depends on the match of the input (test, task, policy, or lesson) to CAP or HHH applies to all people. Students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and policy makers, have different degrees and areas of mastery, experience, and skill.

Benefits

Common core standards, test scores, and accountability, whether nationwide or even statewide, are helpful for the big picture. Common core standards and accountability criteria set a standard or ideal for educators. Standardized test scores allow researchers to have enough data to make general comparisons and conclusions.

Problems

The common core standards and assessment policies have often resulted in educators feeling pressured to apply them immediately without proper alignment with HHH. One teacher told me her story. Her district administrators rushed to create worksheets to go with the common core standards and assessments for her grade level. The worksheets are over her students’ heads (cognitive/head mismatch). She has to spend all her time covering the difficult material (psychomotor/hands mismatch). The students do not feel successful, and the teacher is not able to use the wonderful textbooks and stories that engage the students (affective/heart mismatches).

Standardized text scores are not useful to assess real learning and mastery. In fact, overdependence on them is harmful. It could be argued that multiple-choice exams test only two things–whether a student can use a pencil to make bubbles, and whether he or she can guess the best answer between five alternatives. Tests and assessment at the classroom level are more important for developing the whole learner (i.e., CAP and HHH).

Accountability is complex as well. The most successful schools are learning communities, where students and teachers are able to develop meaningful and satisfying experiences with the subject matter and each other. When there are too many demands from the outside—whether, government, state or district policy—individual educators need to address these demands at the expense of their students, and the classroom and school community suffer the consequences.

Solutions

I have a two-pronged solution for this discussion. First, let high level policies be ideals and guidelines–rather than mandates–for educators on the front lines. Educators can then apply them appropriately, at their own rates, according to their own expertise, without decreasing school or classroom quality. Second, let educators add regular 30/30 RoundTables–weekly to their classrooms, and monthly to their meetings. Such RoundTables would serve as a user-friendly, refreshing new way to develop their goals and subject matter and to gather everyone’s thoughts and experiences.

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