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Common core standards, liability or asset?

Published September 24, 2011 1:01 am
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

How do you change a sow's ear into a silk purse? As it now stands, the Common Core State Standards for schools adopted by most states are a sow's ear, not worth very much, especially as they are intended to be used.

In reality, if the standards are inflicted on teachers as mandates to standardize students, they will actually be harmful, destroying curiosity and giving students an aversion to learning.

Is this what parents want for their children? I don't think so. Let me tell how the standards can be turned into a silk purse. Some years ago, when I was principal of Hill Field Elementary School in Clearfield , the teachers decided to ask parents what they wanted for their children. They decided to hold interviews with each child's parents, during the first month of school. They asked parents to come to the interviews prepared to answer three questions:

• What would you like the school to help you accomplish for your child this year?

• What are this child's special gifts, talents, interests and needs that we should keep in mind?

• How can we work together to accomplish your goals?

What did the teachers learn? Did parents want their children to be standardized? Far from it. The number one need of nearly all parents was for each child to be recognized and appreciated as an individual with unique talents and gifts to be developed. The second need was about evenly divided between "help my child fall in love with learning" and "help my child learn how to get along with others."

From the findings of these interviews and some priorities surveys, we decided to embark on "a path less traveled." We labeled the three primary needs of parents Identity, Inquiry and Interaction to help parents, teachers and students to keep them at the front of their minds. We started to teach the subjects of the curriculum, not as ends in and of themselves, but as tools or a means of helping students grow in what we called the three dimensions of greatness. Parents became full partners.

Parents and teachers know that every child is different from all others. When I taught fifth-graders, the reading levels ranged from beginning readers, all the way up to 11th grade. About a third were below grade level, a third on grade level and a third above. The "sow's ear" aspect of the Common Core State Standards is a failure to recognize student differences.

Teachers are mandated to make all students alike in math and English skills at each grade level, with tests to enforce it. It's impossible to do. If you think teachers and students were demoralized with the absurd expectations of the No Child Left Behind law, wait until you see what's coming with the CCSS.

We can make the Common Core State Standards into a silk purse, something useful, by offering them as guidelines, not as mandates, and letting teachers devise their own ways of assessing. This simple change will allow teachers and parents to recognize and nurture students as individuals with unique talents and gifts.

This is what parents want. It's what students need. It's something teachers can use to become more effective.

Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator, can be reached at lstrd@yahoo.com






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