To Test Or Not To Test: How the Implementation of Common Core and High Stakes State Mandated Testing Affects Faculty and Students
Several years ago, when I first heard about Common Core, I was excited about the concept. I wanted to see more accountability throughout the school systems. In fact, I hoped it would level the playing for all students regardless of socioeconomic background and ensure student success. All children would have the chance to receive a high quality education. Based on the anticipated results, I thought it was a critical solution to an enormous problem that has plagued schools in the U.S. for the last several decades: underachievement. However, there were issues ahead that I never anticipated.
In an effort to support the effort, I served on a state committee to help evaluate and select the professional development program for the implementation of Common Core. I learned an enormous amount of information by sitting on the committee. Our team decided which company would win a multi-million dollar contract to provide professional development in Common Core to our teachers. The roll out was so complicated that teachers would need to spend hours in training to learn how to properly do it. The more I learned, the more I feared we were creating a monster.
By the end of the 2012-2013 school year, charter schools were encouraged to attend a 2-day preliminary meeting about the implementation of Common Core (now known as Florida Standards). At the time, we only had 100 students and a very small staff. We sent the principal and 2 teachers out of school for 2 days to attend the meetings. I attended as well to represent the board. At the presentation, we learned that there would be an additional twenty-
eight professional development modules offered regionally to charter school teachers, administrators and governing board members. Needless to say, the teachers, principal and I felt overwhelmed at the idea as to how we would complete the recommended professional development.
Six months passed and attendance was low at all the regional professional development offerings. Most of the meetings were over 2-3 hours away from our school. There was no way we could afford to pull our teachers out of school and bring in substitutes. Other schools juggled the same issues. After many complaints from teachers and staff, the modules were eventually offered online. However, the teachers still struggled to find the necessary time to participate in the courses. Ultimately, the faculty at our school did not complete all the recommended training. Instead the teachers focused on the students’ needs and worked diligently to ensure the students were learning.
Luckily, charter schools have some flexibility in how we implement the standards that are tested in the state mandated tests. Our school relies heavily on our teachers input for selecting the textbooks. Although our school will take the exact same state tests as other district schools throughout the state, our teachers can decide what they will teach and how they will teach it. The key is to have a very talented staff.
This year, our art students studied the “La Boheme” opera. In English, students read the “Odyssey”, “Beloved”, “Adventures of Huck Fin”, and George Orwell’s “1984”, and “Macbeth” among other great works of literature. Plus we offer an advanced curriculum for our top performing students.
Honors students at our school enroll in the AICE program, which is a highly rigorous international curriculum from the University of Cambridge in England. Students take college level courses during high school. Students are required to take written IGSCE (pre-AICE) and AICE exams at the end of the course. If they student passes the AICE exam, he or she receives college credit for the class. The program is outstanding and our students have benefitted greatly from it.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the implementation of Common Core/ Florida Standards comes down to the required testing. Between Jan. 2015-June 2015 Marco Island Academy will have 93 regular school days. We are administering standardized tests on 49 of those days. Some students will take multiple tests in the same subject area. For example in IGSCE Biology, students will take the IGCSE exam from University of Cambridge and the End of Course Exam required by Florida.
The problem is not just the time the school must spend administering the tests. It is the preparation ahead of time. The test schedules must be set months in advance and include seating charts that we submit to the district prior to testing. Although the AICE and IGCSE tests are paper-based tests, the state mandated test End of Course Exams and Florida Standards Assessments are computer based. To meet the requirements, we have to purchase additional computers. Plus the computers must be set up and tested over a week in advance. We spend thousands of dollars on the IT staff to help with set up and implementation of the testing.
The guidance counselor and many other teachers become testing coordinators. They must be in the room with the students to proctor the tests. This requirement forces us to bring in substitutes to teach in the regular class. Not all students cam test at the same time so it rearranges the entire school schedule every testing day. The end result is that teachers lose critical instructional days in order to administer the tests.
In summary, I must admit that I was once a huge supporter of Common Core and High Stakes testing. I still strongly believe that teachers and administrators must be held accountable for properly educating our students. However, after observing first hand the evolution of Common Core and the affect of high stakes testing on our staff and students, I think we have gone too far. I am not convinced that our students our learning more information. In fact, based on the time teachers have to teach, I fear that the opposite is occurring and students are actually learning less.
There must be a better way to educate our children and measure the results. As parents and educators it is our duty to find a solution that makes sense. The future of our children and ultimately our country depends on it.