Common sense, common ground, common good and common standards — why is there such a ruckus about common standards? Common standards make sense — they are the ground level of achievement for good grades across all years of schooling. They will raise the bar and improve the educational experiences and academic achievement for the 1 million Arizona public school students.
Whether we call them “standards” or “learnings” or “common” or “core” or “basic” their purpose remains the same —to develop academic, career and life skills. These standards include a focus on thinking critically and deriving answers from careful analysis of information, relevant documents and text. In addition to deeper levels of thought, the standards recognize the importance of speaking and writing skills and effective communication and collaboration with others.
These are the skills students of the 21st century need in order to be successful and competitive in a world society.
The State Standards Initiative was a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and content experts. They provide a clear and consistent framework across grades and content areas from which teachers develop instructional plans.
The framework is developed so that governing boards can incorporate local curriculum areas of interest to prepare their students for success beyond high school. However, there is an expectation that the common standards will provide the foundation of knowledge and skills that students across the nation will acquire in the important areas of language and math. According to Grant Wiggins, recognized educational expert, “…I am a strong supporter of Standards generally and the Common Core specifically. To me it is simply a no-brainer: There is no such thing as Georgia Algebra or Montana Writing. In a mobile society, and based on economies of scale, common national standards make a lot of sense.”
Arizona’s Common Core English/Language Arts and Mathematics Standards identify for teachers, parents and students what is expected at various grade levels. They demand deeper and more focused instruction. Rather than trying to get through as much content as possible, teachers will focus on creating greater understanding in key areas.
Both reading and math coursework will emphasize knowledge and understanding of relevant information in science, social studies and other content areas. More reading material will be non-fiction with the purpose to gather information. Instruction in mathematics will include working and solving challenging non-routine problems.
Teachers across all content areas will use their own subject area expertise to help students learn to read, write and communicate effectively in their specific field. Arizona’s Common Core Standards create a stair step from kindergarten through 12th grade — achievement at each level will assure readiness for what comes next.
Many of the educational groups across the state, including the Arizona School Administrators, are working together to help Arizona’s students, educators and families become aware, understand, and be prepared to implement the Common Core Standards. As part of the implementation schedule, students will reap the benefits of the instructional shifts that are taking place in their classroom this year as implementation across all grades has begun.
As a result, classwork and homework may become more difficult and grading practices more stringent, but the end result for our students will be higher levels of thinking and a deeper understanding of content. No longer is the curriculum a mile wide and an inch deep. This is a significant change from the fill-in-the-blank or teach-to-the-test emphasis we have seen in recent years.
This educational reform effort needs a strong base to insure its success. The Arizona Department of Education in partnership with many statewide organizations, including the Arizona School Administrators, Inc., provides information and resources to parents, educators, students and community and business leaders about the standards.
When we focus on the result, Arizona’s Common Core Standards is merely a term used to describe what we want for every child: rigorous standards, excellence in classroom instruction, and learning environments that engage and motivate students to grow and develop to their potential.
-Debra Duvall, executive director, Arizona School Administrators Association.