October 2014 Column

   Common Core State Standards and the PARCC Assessment are lightning rods when talking about public education. Whether it's coincidence that the focus has increased during an election is interesting.  Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were endorsed by the National Governor’s Association in 2009 during then-Gov. Bill Richardson’s Democratic administration. His Secretary of Education was Dr. Veronica Garcia, former Superintendent of Santa Fe Public Schools.
   Gov. Martinez, a Republican, has continued to support Common Core along with her Secretary Designate Hanna Skandera.  It should also be noted that President Obama’s current Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, is a supporter of CCSS.  Thus, it appears to be a non-partisan agenda. Originally 46 states adopted Common Core State Standards.  Texas was one of the states which never adopted CCSS.  Since the original adoption, three states have withdrawn including Oklahoma.  Minnesota only selected the English Language Arts portion of CCSS.
    It’s important to understand Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum.  They are a set of standards by which states or local districts modified or rewrote their curriculum.  CCSS can be thought of as the skeleton of the educational system with the local districts placing the muscle and skin on the model to make it work.  Local districts have flexibility to teach the standards that will ensure proficiency for their children.
   There are two assessment for CCSS: Smarter Balance and PARCC (Partner for Assessment and Readiness for College and Career).  Dr. Garcia originally committed New Mexico to the Smarter Balance consortium.  When Secretary Skandera took over, New Mexico changed to the PARCC assessment. Thirty-seven states belong to one or the other assessment consortia. Only 27 states plan on taking one of the assessments during the current year.  Ten states have chosen to use the PARCC assessment.  Some states such as Utah have developed their own assessment while still using Common Core State Standards.
    As we approach the assessment, some feel it in the best interest to opt out of the testing.  Opting out can have unintended consequences.  Most parents support their child’s teacher and would not want to have negative impact on their career.  But the fact remains that a teacher’s evaluation is based on the performance of his/her students.  Therefore, if parents have children who are proficient in the academics and choose to opt out, it can have a negative impact on the teacher’s evaluation.  A drop in performance of a building can also have an adverse effect on the campus report card grade. As seen in the Mills Elementary School results, schools are required to assess 95 percent of their students.  Eleven students at Mills chose to opt out lowering the percentage to 94.7.  The school dropped a full letter grade because they did not meet the percentage criteria. New residents to the community as well as those who chose to move, tend to look at school performance as a reason to move into particular parts of the community.  At its most severe, school grades can impact the value of homes.
   We are in a time where accountability is a major factor.  School performance impacts funding as well as our ability to attract and maintain quality teachers. HMS has a strong sense that standardized testing is not high stakes. Instead, it is a “check for understanding” and enables us to reassess what and how we teach.  I believe in a continuous improvement model and will always use data to evaluate the performance of our students and staff to ensure we are enabling students to achieve their fullest potential. HMS has been very successful in using data to improve teaching and learning.  We were recently recognized as one of three of the most improving academic districts in the state by Secretary Skandera. It will only be “high stakes” if we allow it to take on more meaning than it should.  Again, testing is a “check for understanding” so we improve our academic performance as well as give each student the tools they need to be successful.
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