Common Core. The very phrase can evoke a myriad of feelings in some folks, from anger to relief to ambiguity.
After taking a serious look at what the phrase actually means, and what it means to Oregon students, the new standards are a good thing.
Common Core State Standards have raised the bar — equally — in 43 states across America and in Puerto Rico. It means that students across the U.S. will learn the same things in the same grades. It also means Oregonians can compare their education to those in other states.
The idea behind the standards is a good one: Get kids ready for college or a career; decrease the need for kids to pay for remedial classes in college when they should have learned those things in grades K-12.
We like the idea of giving youths the tools they need to do whatever they want after high school, and Common Core State Standards promises just that.
But where we trip up is with the new Smarter Balanced Assessment test, which replaces the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (OAKS).
The new test is a better test. It uses written answers rather than multiple choice, and even evolves with a student’s responses. So, if you get an answer right, it will ask you a harder question to see how much of that topic you really understand. Conversely, if you get an answer wrong, it will ask you an easier one. The test is unique to each test-taker.
But, in spite of the fact that Common Core has been adopted in Oregon for four years, it doesn’t seem like administrators or students are really ready to be tested on the new, harder standards.
We’re all for harder tests and more stringent standards, but if students don’t have time to learn the new standards, we don’t think it’s fair for them to be tested on them.
It’s especially tricky because the Oregon Department of Education has not decided yet what a passing score on the new test is. Seniors in the Class of 2016 don’t know yet what score they need to achieve to graduate, and may not know until after they’ve taken the test next spring.
Fortunately, students have a secondary way to show they know their stuff, and that is through work samples. If a student can complete two work samples in each of the main standard areas — reading, writing and language arts, math and science — they don’t have to pass the Smarter Balanced Assessment test to graduate.
We’re glad local administrators have been proactive in collecting these work samples early and in taking other steps to ensure no Polk County high school senior will fail to graduate because of the new test.
But it shouldn’t just be local administrators who are involved in the solution. ODE should take one more year to evaluate the results of a recent field test of Smarter Balanced and decide what comparable scores are on that test to the OAKS test.
It would be prudent to roll the test out ready to go rather than use our students as Guinea pigs.