Liz Beson, Illustrator

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), an educational initiative for kindergarten through 12th grade designed to mandate the content taught at each level, has been adopted by New York State. New York is one of 44 states along with the District of Columbia and four territories to have implemented CCSS.

Professor Jeffrey Choppin, director of the mathematics education program at the Warner School of Education, noted that higher-level content is being pushed down to lower grades, meaning students will learn concepts at a younger age.  

The standards are aligned wih the content taught but are “agnostic to curriculum,” he said.

“The goals of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)…are to consistently address the same proficiencies regardless of state or age,” Warner School master’s student and eighth grade English teacher at Barker Road Middle School in Pittsford Clay Monson said. “The goal was to unify the quality or result of students across the nation.”

These sweeping changes in policy and the way content is taught to students means that teachers need to be informed on how to implement these changes in classroom environments.

According to Choppin, the Warner School has taken an advanced role in educating teachers on “developing active roles for students” and how to be more attentive to individual students. The school  has been encouraging a “hands-on” philosophy for over 20 years, and even with the new changes brought about by CCSS, it was not necessary for Warner to make changes to ensure that its teachers comply with the shift in teaching technique. 

“From the start, Warner has focused on providing teachers with a solid understanding of educational theories in order to inform eventual teaching decisions,” Monson said. “They have provided me multiple opportunities to apply these frameworks to my teaching as well as offer up specific, research validated practices which benefit student learning.”

On national, state, and local levels, the implementation of CCSS has garnered much controversy.

In spite of the contention, Monson is a supporter of CCSS. 

“The arching goals which cover school children of all ages, the gradual increase of expected proficiency toward those standards, and the consistency across states were a strong step forward,” he said.

He is not, however, in agreement with the way the program has been implemented in schools across the country.

One new teaching approach that has been developed is “modules,” an approach designed to make lessons be more focused. “When I have the freedom to teach to the standards without the modules, I think it enhances my teaching.  But these modules are the second to worst thing to happen to U.S. students in my lifetime, only second to the high-stakes testing craze.”

Any new information necessary for educators has been implemented directly into existing classes, so as to raise discussion about policy changes, rather than in entirely new classes.

“There are parts of the Common Core which are good, but they may get washed out with high stakes testing,” Choppin said.

High stakes testing will determine if students are deemed ready to move on to the next grade level. Future test scores will play a large role in the evaluation of a teacher’s accountability, dictating salary and job security and reducing the involvement of teachers in curriculum planning. 

“I’m not sure it will benefit students in general,” Doctoral Ed.D in Human Development student at Warner Ghislaine Radegonde-Eison said. “I see that it will play in favor of those who have the means to get to the best school and afford training that will prepare them to perform well in test taking.”

Radegonde-Eison expressed concerns that the new curriculum will not adequately prepare students for college.

“The reality is that when you mandate any kind of standardized test, you have a segment of the population that always does well and a segment of the population that always does poorly,” master’s student in Elementary and Childhood Education at Warner Jolene Walter said. 

Walter does not have any problem with the CCSS, but, like many other educators, is disappointed that the curriculum is basically a means to teach about the test.

She is frustrated by the new mentality that “we need to have all students meet this standard now and we will punish their schools if they don’t”, and is concerned about the amount of freedom that teachers will have in the future.

In fact, Morson believes that the CCSS may unintentionally degrade the levels of teaching.

“Although it varies, most districts expect teachers to follow plans designed by less qualified educators for an ‘average’ American community, and without wiggle room to be responsive to students’ needs in terms of the texts we read or the various approaches [we take],” Morson said.

Walter agreed, arguing that the “essentially scripted lesson plans” of the common core curriculum are written by those who do not understand the ability and potential of each individual school to meet Common Core Standards.

“Instead of teaching the greats from the literary canon, we need to devote half our time to speeches, research articles or other kinds of informational texts,” Monson said. “Rather than having massive units where students are dedicated to writing multiple creative pieces to understand a literary era, we would need to craft experiences that had students analyzing information about this era.”

Kath is a member of the class of 2016. 

Liu is a member of the class of 2016. 

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