The 2014-15 school year saw unprecedented change with Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or Common Core Content Standards (CCCS) and PARCC Testing. Refresh your memory with a look back at the state of education last September. How has teaching changed? Share your thoughts with New Jersey Teachers Magazine on Facebook or post comments below.
By Mitchell Krugel
They say they want a revolution. Well, you know. “They” are asking teachers to endure Common Core State Standards (CCSS) or Common Core Content Standards (CCCS) and PARCC Testing and No Child Left Behind as the way to get America’s reading and math skills on par with the rest of the world.
“The Obama administration is pushing this down with the major goal of making sure our students are college and career ready,” declares Vicki Cohen, director of the Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Education.
They tell you that it’s evolution. Well, you know. “They” all want to change the world and get America to produce as many scientists, engineers and critical-thinking problem solvers as the rest of the world.
“I think there is a definite change and I think it needed to happen,” observes Dawn Uttel, longtime Language Arts Teacher and Assistant Principal at School No. 18 in Paterson. “Maybe not in the force that is has come, but they’re raising the bar for all of us and we all need this to make out kids on par with kids in other countries.”
They say they got a real solution. Well, you know. We’d all love to see the plan. And if that plan is centered on how students perform on the new PARCC standardized test, well, you know, many teachers and educators are not convinced it’s the best plan.
“To become successful problem-solvers, we need to let our students explore learning,” comments Bill Clark, sixth grade science teacher at Orlando Edreira Academy in Elizabeth. “Common Core Standards can give students a way to think about knowledge. It can be a guide for teachers and they can use it as a way to rekindle their love of content. And when they are truly learning without the pressure of high-stakes testing, it can be pure joy.”
The evolution in education is here, creating a back-to-school for 2014-15 unlike teachers have ever known. The change has actually wrought an unknown that the architects of it can only rely on the rest of words from those profound educators known as the Beatles to construe how the education evolution ultimately will impact the teaching profession: Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright.
But do you, really? Do you know if raising the standards, the new standardized testing and the way teachers are now being evaluated (and how it affects your job security) will allow you to come out alright in the end, or at least the end of this school year? You have seen the plan, or at least the start of it. So what are you going to do about it?
“We don’t know yet the impact of CCSS on student achievement. However, best practices always prevail and have withstood the test of time. Teachers should not be afraid of change; rather embrace it and move forward,” notes Karen Pezzolla, Associate Dean for Undergraduate programs in the School of Education at Felician College. Adds her colleague, Michelle Anderson, the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in Felician’s School of Education: “Educate yourself on the expectations being placed on your classroom and your students. With knowledge comes the power and ability to translate outcomes into manageable, instructional approaches. Keep doing what teachers have always done best…teach with heart and expertise.”
They say they’ll change the constitution
Teachers are probably tired of hearing about Common Core Content Standards as much as they don’t need to be reminded that this year requires Student Growth Objectives (SGOs) as part of their assessments and evaluation for tenure. And as for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers (PARCC), well, if there’s one aspect of the evolution that will be alright, it’s most likely this one. (Vicki Cohen will provide an explanation of why shortly).
Regarding the new teacher performance assessment process that seems like it comes on like the Spanish Inquisition, Cohen reports, “The feedback I’m getting from many different sources is that 99 percent of teachers who rated as proficient or highly proficient were rated the same as before they changed the evaluations.”
So, then, the real question is how will the education evolution affect what teachers are doing in the classroom? The plan will no doubt require a different way of teaching.
“You’re moving away from just having a textbook and moving into a more rigorous thinking,” Uttel surmises. “Teachers will have to enable students to think through work rather than just doing a worksheet. Teachers will need to become facilitators of the classroom and let go of talking for an hour. The big challenge will be to let go.”
Herein lies the revolution in the evolution. No teacher probably ever said she got into teaching because of the opportunity to have a captive audience every day. The reality appears to be that there will be a new type of common ground in the classroom.
“The classroom is no longer teacher-driven but student-centered,” says Pezzolla, who was a classroom teacher for 20 years and also served as a reading specialist and literacy coach. “So a new style of teaching is needed. Most teachers now have a heightened awareness of the importance of differentiating instruction for the diverse learner, as well as collaboration among colleagues in addressing the needs of students.”
They tell me it’s the institution
Teachers who walked into the classroom to start the school year feeling the fears and the harsh realities the evolution has brought are not alone. Who hasn’t envisioned a scenario like this one?
A student in your class has some minor learning disabilities, but his IEP has him in your class instead of modified room or a resource room. You’re teaching sixth-grade math but he has trouble adding and subtracting. You wonder how you are supposed to teach the curriculum, the core content state standardized one, when you are constantly doing modifications to accommodate your student population. Never mind what will happen to the student when it’s time to PARCC.
“And your career is now based upon that student,” submits Cindy Musso, a Learning Disabilities Teaching Consultant in Bound Brook who spent the past 15 years teaching math. “A teacher is supposed to teach the core curriculum but so many kids are lacking a lot of the basics that you can really teach all of them the same way. It’s not the one-size-fits-all that they’re making it out to be.”
That’s the reality. The fear runs a bit deeper. Musso wonders if the evolution could lead to teachers not even wanting the low-level students in their classes.
“How can you be assessed on a student you only have for one year,” Musso adds. “That student might have had difficulty the year before and they want you to put your career on the line for that student.”
Hanging over your heads, of course, is that test. How will you ever teach good problem-solving if you have to teach to that test? You can only hope that your teaching doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of the test and the administrator who maybe spent two or three years in the classroom observing you for your SGO evaluation.
So it’s not unreasonable that the test could wind up marginalizing teachers.
“There’s resentment, frustration, anger and deep sadness when you think about what you won’t be able to contribute because you have been marginalized,” reasons Clark. “When we feel our efforts have been unrecognized, the response will be low performance.”
Clark has become somewhat of an expert about how laying layers of testing on students induces stress and fear and compromises their ability to learn. He evokes research about how letting students explore learning activates the pleasure center of the brain, and, consequently, testing inhibits that exploration.
“Nobody wants to look at it,” he states, “when they feel it is being imposed.”
It could be worse. And it has been. Musso reminds of the incident in Georgia where teachers were found to be changing answers on the standardized test to eradicate low performance.
They ask me for a contribution
There seems to be lots of good that will come with the evolution for teachers who want to get on board. Not the least of these benefits is that some teachers will be asked to leave their jobs who should be asked to leave their jobs. Some who need to leave will do so out of their own volition.
And where some teachers find the Core Content Standards limiting, others will find them inspiring. Sure, some teachers will browse the standards day after day trying to match a number to a lesson plan they have used for the past several years.
But some teachers will invent new lesson plans that meet a standard, or – here comes the shameless plug – use one that you mind find in this magazine each month.
“Teaching is an art,” Clark pontificates. “Give teachers a wide range of mediums and they can do a wide range of art. The advantage of the Common Core is that it asks for more abstract thinking and you can use it to provide kids with a rich field of content.”
Now, here’s the secret to enduring the evolution. Not much of a secret, really; more like inevitability. Core Content, SGOs, PARCC and the lot can only be maximized if accompanied by professional development. So if this report leaves you with no other takeaway, then demand professional development from your institution.
All teachers should have access to a development mechanism like the one Uttel tells about in Paterson. The district’s “Edivation” system provides a file of video clips showing teachers teaching to individual Common Core standards.
“Teachers need to have opportunities to watch other teachers modeling the strategies,” Uttel continues. “Professional development has to be the first thing to help teachers know they can put the trust in their students.”
While you’re doing all you can this school year, also know that there is the potential for a happy ending.
“In Massachusetts, they raised the standards very high a few years ago,” Cohen testifies. “When they first started doing testing, the scores were low. Over the years, as the curriculum was implemented, the scores started to increase. Now, the Massachusetts scores are among the highest in the country.”
Don’t you know it’s gonna be alright.