Q: We recently moved to Tennessee and got our kids into a good public school. The principal holds meetings on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the tests children will take next year. Parents are afraid kids will do poorly. Some are considering switching to private schools so their children won't be stressed by the new curriculum and tests. How hard will they be?
A: That's not the right question. A better one is, "How can I help my children master CCSS material in elementary, middle and high school, so they can do well in college and prepare for a rewarding career?"
Last fall, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made headlines when he said that opposition to the Common Core and related tests comes primarily from "white suburban moms" worrying about their kids' poor performance on the new exams.
"All of a sudden, their child isn't as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn't quite as good as they thought they were, and that's pretty scary," he said.
Duncan may have chosen his words poorly, but "the evidence is all around us that many children, including those in the middle class, are not acquiring the skills they need to succeed in higher education and later obtain a living-wage job," says Bill Jackson, president of GreatSchools (greatschools.org), an organization that helps parents support their child's learning.
"So while the results of the new tests might be disconcerting, they will tell the truth to parents, students and teachers, so they know whether children are really on track," he adds.
"The United States has fallen from first to 10th in the number of students who graduate high school, and ranks 12th in the number of 24- to 36-year-olds with a college degree," Jackson notes. "The United States ranks 25th out of 34 top-performing countries in math, and 17th in science, two subjects important to most high-paying jobs. Nearly 3.5 million jobs in the United States go unfilled each year because there are not enough qualified candidates to fill them."
The CCSS -- crafted by thousands of parents, teachers, researchers, subject-area specialists, business, civic and policy leaders across the political spectrum -- should appeal to "anyone who thinks our kids might learn more than they've been learning and that the bar on our education expectations should be raised," says Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based education think tank.
There are two main assessment programs to help states monitor student progress on CCSS.
Tennessee is part of an 18-state consortium, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which is developing a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math. PARCC assessments are being field-tested now and will be ready for the 2014-15 school year.
PARCC encourages parents and students to try the sample test items across all grades and to provide feedback. The sample items will not be scored. They are available at www.parcconline.org/computer-based-samples.
While a few states may create their own assessments, most others adopting the CCSS will use tests created by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. These will be field-tested from March 18 to June 6. For more information, go to www.smarterbalanced.org.
(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)