The more I read about the pending implementation of Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the more I grasp how much these new standards will require of teachers as agents of education’s newest movement. True, student assessments will measure more than their ability to fill in a bubble- gauging their ability to comprehend complex texts and demonstrate that comprehension by completing a series of tasks associated with the reading(s). But, the more I read about the process of creating and implementing the CCSS in any real and meaningful way, whether from the Standards themselves, the experts, or the critics, the more I must reflect about my abilities and limitations…and wonder how other stakeholder groups are preparing for this shift.
Like many teachers within Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the majority of my students are students of color; the majorities of my students are Standard English Learners and/or represent some spectrum of the English Language Learner continuum (RFEP, IEP, LTELs). As such, I am simultaneously hopeful and fearful of what the onset of CCSS will reveal- at least in the short term. I’m hopeful that giving my students more complex texts, but supporting their learning with text-dependent questions will (somehow) equalize the seemingly ever-widening achievement gap. But I’m fearful that while I wait for a generation of students to go through the entire CCSS cycle, the students who’ll get minimal exposure to CCSS, the students who are collectively struggling with the California Standards Tests (CSTs), will only have their limitations further exposed, as Ron Haskins and others suggest in their article, Can Academic Standards Boost Literacy and Close the Achievement Gap?
“…the [new assessments’] results will show a much larger literacy gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students than revealed by current achievement tests. The more demanding Common Core standards in literacy, based on reading comprehension, conceptual knowledge, and vocabulary as well as accurate and fluent reading, combined with accurate assessments of these skills, will reveal how far disadvantaged children lag behind on these more advanced literacy skills.”
This notion of further widening the achievement gap brings me back to my abilities and limitations- I am struggling to close the achievement gap now. Am I making strides? Yes. I’m more cognizant of data, gauging the summative (and formative) abilities of my students, discerning what students “take away” from the lesson, the unit, the class. Is the achievement gap narrowing for my students? Yes, but gradually. And the work to close the achievement gap, albeit meaningful and rewarding, takes effort, collaboration, professional development, commitment, and lots of support- and I’m just one stakeholder in a child’s education. I’m waiting for students and parents/communities to share my simultaneous hope and fear that the standards and accompanying tasks/expectations, though not insurmountable, are becoming more rigorous and challenging.
I don’t want to close my reflection with a pessimistic tone, for I genuinely believe in the idea behind Common Core. I believe that the skills and rigor of the CCSS are transferrable, regardless of subject or discipline. I believe that text complexity and text-dependent questions will offer students skills required in the 21st century global workplace and marketplace. But I also believe that the effort, collaboration, (professional) development, commitment, and support needed to make CCSS succeed reflect what the collective we must bring to the table, not just the standards and teachers.