It doesn’t matter if a state has adopted the common core standards or not. States that don’t have the common core have their own (very similar) standards. It’s not the common core that’s the enemy, it’s all standards.
Think back to everything you learned in second grade. Now, write down all of the things that you think are important to learn in second grade. You should also include the best ways to teach those things, too. That’s what the authors of school standards have done. The problem is that it’s not possible to include everything you learn in school, and not every child learns the same. Also, the standard has to be specific enough to be measurable on a standardized test, but also broad enough to include a wide range of skills.
Let’s look at a math standard from second grade:
“Work with equal groups of objects to gain foundations for multiplication.
2.OA.3. Determine whether a group of objects (up to 20) has an odd or even number of members, e.g., by pairing objects or counting them by 2s; write an equation to express an even number as a sum of two equal addends.”
This standard is supposed to be a precursor to multiplication. The goal is simple. Students need to know if a number is even or odd between 0 and 20. But they can’t memorize the even and odd numbers. I’ve been teaching my students the “odd man out” method. They pair up a group of objects by 2’s and if there’s an extra object, that’s the “odd man out” and the number is odd.
Simple enough, right? But what about the second part of the standard? The stuff about writing an equation to expression an even number means that students will be able to divide any even number between 0 and 20 into the sum of two equal numbers. These are what should be called “doubles facts”: 2+2, 3+3, 4+4, and so on. But the way the standard is worded seems like a students should be able to write the equation. Which means my students have questions on their assessments like: “Write a number sentence for 12 where both numbers being added are the same.”
It’s subtle, but think about how limiting this standard is. For example, I can’t list numbers and have students circle the evens because the standard isn’t “Students will identify even numerals.” Which means students will only identify odds and evens when given a set of objects. Likewise, I can’t give a test with “Solve 6+6” because it doesn’t fit the standard. Sure, it might fit 2.OA.2 (Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies.2 By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.) but that’s only if a student can show me which mental strategy he or she used.
The standards wouldn’t be so bad if they simplified them. A good standard would be “Students will improve their math skills.” That standard is not only easily measurable, but it also allows me to write math tests without having to worry if they fit a standard. As long as the math I use is the same or more difficult than the previous math test I can prove that students are learning.
It also will apply towards students working above or below grade level. We want all of our students to grow. Let’s adopt this new standard.
I also have one for reading: “Students will improve their reading skills.” Done. BAM!