Standardized High-Stakes Testing: Not the Only Issue with the Common Core
In the last year, and specifically the last few months, parents are becoming increasingly more outraged with how New York State Education Department (NYSED) is approaching Common Core, specifically the high-stakes testing that has come with it. Nothing can make me happier than knowing that teachers do not stand alone on the issue of high-stakes testing and the flaws of it in the education system, but the tests are really the tip of the iceberg and it's not Common Core that we should be most worried about.
Parents are crying out against standardized testing and they rightfully should. Watching my 7th grade students fret and struggle and not finish their test last year because it was too difficult was painful. Seeing students who are good English students in academic support because their test scores were low is also painful. The children are suffering because of NYSED's agenda, and parents are taking notice. But there is more to be upset about. NYSED is trying to standardize teaching as well.
Amazing Teachers No More?
Think back to your favorite teacher in school. Odds are he or she stands out to you because they taught differently and made a connection to you that other teachers didn't. They found a way to make the material interesting and worthwhile to you. Maybe they took extra time with you to help you understand the content. Maybe it was because for a few minutes every day in class, he/she spent time talking about things going on in your life before moving onto that day's lesson. When we have great teachers we know they're great because they are different. With the choices NYSED is making, your children may never be able to have a great teacher like that to be inspired by.
NYS has paid Expeditionary Learning, Core Knowledge and Odell Education to create scripted lesson plans for teachers to follow to teach the Common Core in English. Since I am a middle and high school English teacher, my modules were made by Expeditionary Learning, a company that redesigns schools. While I'm not bashing the company or their mission, as it would appear they do see results, NYS cannot expect every public school across the state to be an EL school. What EL has created for NYS is a variation of what they do in their schools because their structure is different and they have more time. So these modules, not being 100% true to the model they were designed for have gaps and flaws in them and it doesn't necessarily take a trained educator to see that.
Impact of Modules on Education
NYS has put the money into these modules and told schools to either adapt, adopt, or align to the modules. Even though it seems we have choice, you can't help but wonder how much of the modules are going to be tied to the tests and what your kiddos might miss if you don't follow one through.
So while there is financial gain for these companies, what is the gain for teachers and more importantly students? Each module is hundreds of pages long, with a variety of protocols and activities that teachers should have already taught (EL has a ton of jargon-y "protocols" that you are supposed to use in your classroom. They are simply activities, but written down in very specific steps). The modules come with worksheets for the students (all of which can be accessed freely on engageny.org, meaning students have access to teacher resources as well). Essentially, the teacher does not have to plan. In fact, all the teacher needs to do is read a script. For example, in the English 7 Module 1, the first step of the first lesson in Unit 1 reads "Tell students that today they will begin a long-term study of a topic. Let them know that much of the important work they will be doing—reading, thinking, and writing—will be done in partners. They will have one partner on certain days, and a different partner on other days (if there is an uneven number of students, a triad is fine)." It tells me exactly what I need to say to the students, and even better, that triads are just fine to use if I have an odd number of students, in case I wasn't sure what to do with my odd student. Each bullet point is just as detailed and just as scripted. I don't even need to think about what to do or say because everything is outlined for me in the modules, in all 235 pages of just Unit 1. There are 3 units in this particular module, hundreds of pages of scripted teaching at my disposal.
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There are so many issues with the modules being put into place in the classroom. When I was first introduced, I was incredibly offended. NYS required me to have a Bachelor's degree, hours of field experience, a semester of student teaching, 3 teaching exams to get certification and then a Master's degree. All of this to be able to teach in NYS and they hand me a module that has scripted what I should do in my classroom, down to the words and the language that I should use (for example, "gist" is a hot word for the modules). What happens when my students need to be retaught? What happens when I would like to work with another teacher on an interdisciplinary unit? What about my special needs kids? Or my gifted and talented? There just isn't room in the modules for this type of work.
I understand that we need more rigor in the classroom and we need to raise standards and expectations. I love the Common Core for that. But what NYS has made of it, the high-stakes testing, the "suggested text list" (that's for another day), the modules...it has morphed into something that does not have the interest of the students in mind. It seems as though we teachers are being turned into mindless robots. Teaching is becoming standardized and scripted and NYSED is killing the profession. After all, what teacher doesn't love to develop and craft a unit of study in a way that reaches the children he/she has in the classroom, encourages them to think and inspires them to learn? How can a scripted module even compare?
My plea to NYSED is to take it all one step at a time. Have some faith in the people you have certified to teach in this state. Let us have some time with the standards and work them into our classrooms. Slow down a little bit with the implementation, get rid of everything that is muddying it up and let people see that Common Core is a great set of standards that will better prepare our students for the future.
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