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Common Core: Is it the Silver Bullet for Education


by Ed Sutherland

Education reform is in the air. Along with discussions over affordability and taxes, Vermont is preparing to introduce Common Core Standards in all classrooms for 2015. Some schools have already started implementing the new standards. Limited testing in March gave school officials some insight into how Common Core will be received statewide.

Michael Hock, director of Educational Assessment for the Vermont Agency of Education, said field trials of the new standards had few glitches and he doesn’t anticipate the reaction New Yorkers had to the system.  In that case, after  parent and teacher uproar, the new evaluation system was rolled back.

Common Core will measure language arts and math in Vermont grades 3-8 and 11. In March, some 27 Vermont schools with 5,000 participating students took part in field trials of the testing delivered by computer. According to Hock, the initial testing went off without a hitch, except for one school which had trouble connecting students using Chromebook computers.

The Common Core standards were created in 2008 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. In 2010, Vermont adopted the standard and joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The 14 SBAC member states include Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut. Come March 2015, tests developed by SBAC will be issued to students statewide, according to Hock. The tests will replace the current New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) evaluations.

Unlike previous testing, those based on Common Core will be totally computer-based. Along with choosing the SBAC, rather than Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARC, Vermont is using a different company for its data warehousing, the technology required to give teachers and officials statewide access to testing results. Both factors were part of the Common Core revolt in nearby New York, according to Hock.

State officials are already preparing Vermont residents for seeing lower scores in their children’s SBAC testing, suggesting the majority of the state’s students will not bring home results worthy of sticking to the refrigerator.

Pat Fitzsimmons,  the Vermont Education Agency’s chief of implementing Common Core, is also trying to reduce expectations.

There are some examples of how Common Core Standards differ from those taught now in Vermont schools.  In language arts, for instance, students will concentrate on understanding nonfiction, analyzing and comprehending what is read, as well as increasing their vocabulary. For math, Common Core may teach fourth and fifth graders concepts previously not taught until sixth grade. In the majority of Common Core instruction, understanding, analysis and problem-solving trump quantity of lessons.

Still, adoption of Common Core faces much skepticism, particularly when it comes to  conspiracy buffs. Questions posed range from whether the standards are some federal attempt to indoctrinate classrooms to Bill Gates and others  trying to “buy” Common Core acceptance.

The only true test of Common Core will likely come in 2015, when students and teachers start to assess the new standards.