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Viewpoints: Don’t rush opening the new house of education

Published: Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 - 12:00 am

A lot of hard work is being done to prepare California’s teachers, schools and districts for the implementation of Common Core standards, the new assessments that go with them, and the latest iteration of the state’s Academic Performance Index, or API.

“Common Core” is shorthand for core concepts and procedures all states agree students should master. It builds a national educational model based on state standards so that a child whose parents move, say, from New Jersey to California, can expect to continue schooling without disruption due to differing standards.

We are appreciative of efforts by the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Smarter Balanced Coalition and others to create stronger connections between academic standards, content and assessments. The result will be a better public education system.

However, good reasons are emerging almost daily to slow down the momentum toward some of these changes. Imagine constructing a school building that everyone agrees we need. Opening the building for use depends on finishing the electrical and plumbing systems, doors, windows, elevators — you get the idea.

The California Federation of Teachers supports the promise of the Common Core and the potential of the new computer-based adaptive assessments (“smart tests” adjusting questions to students’ abilities and knowledge levels), but it’s important that all parts of this structure are in place before we allow teachers and staff to use it.

The American Federation of Teachers is calling for a moratorium on the use of Common Core-based assessment data for high stakes purposes. AFT President Randi Weingarten says we should “give teachers and school districts time to properly implement the new higher standards.”

An AFT national survey indicates 83 percent of teachers favor a moratorium; 53 percent have received little or no training on the Common Core.

We have already witnessed the disastrous effects of rushing to implement assessments based on Common Core standards in New York. Student test scores plunged, politicians freaked out, and parents were concerned over a drop in scores from the previous year.

Only 27 percent of the nation’s schools are estimated to have the bandwidth for the new computer adaptive assessments. In California, some districts will be prepared with computers, some will use paper and pencil and others, both. That does not present us with the ability to generate comparative data.

CFT and AFT are not alone in pressing for more time to work out bugs. Five states have dropped out of the consortium supporting common tests for the Common Core, and more are heading in the same direction. The Association of California School Administrators calls for a three-year moratorium.

The California Legislature appears ready to pass a one-year moratorium bill. The state budget has allocated $1.25 billion to implement the Common Core and associated assessments. However, the California Department of Education estimates that training all teachers and bringing in requisite materials and textbooks, technologies and bandwidth to run the computer-based assessments will require at least three times that amount.

On this timeline, teachers and students will not have had adequate time to prepare for the transition before it arrives.

The state should proceed with development of a multiple-measures based API, the new assessments, and the Common Core.

But high stakes applications of the new systems, such as measuring student or school progress, should be held in abeyance until the new standards, assessments and infrastructure to implement them are lined up properly, teachers are trained, and students can be fairly assessed with them.

Our students’ and teachers’ time on task are too important for the new schoolhouse to be opened without first ensuring the building’s parts are firmly in place.

Joshua Pechthalt is president of the California Federation of Teachers. Gary Ravani is president of the CFT Early Childhood K-12 Council.

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