Opinion

Standards: Yesterday and Today | GUEST OPIUNION

You may be hearing a buzz about new educational standards. My hope is that this article can provide some background about educational standards in our state, as well as a glimpse into our future as we transition to the Common Core State Standards.

Standards outline what students need to know, understand, and be able to do. This requires the creation of curriculum frameworks which outline specific knowledge or skills which students must acquire. Standards are chosen through political and educational expert discussions that focus on what students will need to learn to be competitive in the job market, instead of by textbook publishers or education professors or tradition. Standards are normally published and freely available to parents and taxpayers as well as professional educators and textbook writers.

Yesterday

In 1993, Washington State developed new educational standards. These standards addressed the traditional subject areas of reading, writing, communication, math, history, and the sciences. They also addressed critical thinking skills and planning for one’s future. Across the country, the “standards movement”  resulted in 50 different set of learning standards, and eventually 50 different state tests of those standards.

Washington State standards have always been considered high, not as high as some, but higher than many others.  When the Department of Education began rewarding and punishing states and school districts based on their state test scores, some states actually lowered their standards.  Washington State never did this.

As you can imagine, this made it very difficult for states to learn from each other, and to determine what is best practice in education. Publishers created curriculum that reflected primarily what Californians and Texans wanted — because they are the biggest textbook markets. Teachers and administrators would go to professional development sessions to learn more about how to improve schools, but they were comparing apples and oranges when it came to what the students learned, and how they were tested.

Today

The Governors and Chief State Schools Officers (the Superintendent of Public Instruction in our state) came together to supported an effort to develop standards that would be world class, and consistent across the country if states so chose to participate. These are now called the Common Core State Standards. Currently, 45 states including Washington, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards.

These standards are for English/Language Arts and Math, and represent a more rigorous set of standards than in almost every state currently. They are designed to be college and career readiness standards, not a minimum standard for graduation. If you would like to learn more about these standards first hand, go to www.corestandards.org.

As a profession, we are already recognizing the efficiencies created by all of us working on the same set of standards. Where one state may not have the funding to create curriculum and training, another state may have the funding and expertise to do so, and put their work on the internet for us to adapt to our local community and to learn from. The tax dollar is truly being maximized for taxpayers across the country by all of us working together.

Don’t worry, this movement does not dilute local control by our elected school board. Our locally elected school board members duties are still the same: they set district policy, employ the superintendent, determine graduation requirements, approve curriculum, and much more. We now just have a common language in most states when it comes to world-class standards.

Last month I wrote about our new teacher and principal evaluation system. This month I have shared about new standards — that will also result in new testing. So, just about everything in our profession is “under construction” — but for the better. Thank you so much for your support, as we consistently build the aircraft while we are flying it.

Dr. Becky Berg is the Superintendent of Marysville Schools.  You can reach Dr. Berg via email at becky_berg@msvl.k12.wa.us or by calling 360-653-0800.

 

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