I’ve been implementing Arizona’s College and Career Ready standards for three years in my fifth grade classroom. But I’m going to let you in on a secret: it hasn’t changed my teaching very much. In fact, the standards finally caught up with what many good educators have been trying to do for a long time –move away from rote memorization and isolated skills and return to creativity and in-depth learning in the classroom.
We are finally seeing a return to cross-curricular, integrated learning which help students build connections to the real world outside of the classroom.
Unfortunately, these standards have been used as a tool to increase the divisiveness involved with current politics while completely overshadowing our priorities as teachers and parents to provide the best education for our children. To give the standards an honest evaluation, we must separate them from the political issues that have surrounded them.
The educational environment varies greatly from one classroom to the next, and that variety continues and expands at the school, district, state and national level. These new standards help unify educators from around the United States in a way that will ensure continued excellence from accomplished teachers while motivating all teachers to expect the best from our children.
Here’s what I appreciate about the standards as both a parent and a teacher:
- They define what students should know and be able to do – not how teachers should teach. The standards are not a curriculum – we will maintain local control of how the standards are taught and with what materials through our local school districts, school boards and teachers. I can tailor my teaching to the needs and interests of the individual learners in front of me each year.
- We’re hearing from colleges and employers that our students must be able to read and analyze complex information. Our graduates need to be widely literate to be college ready and employable. The standards emphasize non-fiction, fiction, literature, reading and writing to provide our students with what they will need as graduates.
- They raise expectations for all students. We have to raise the floor so we can raise the ceiling. A common set of standards is one of the hallmarks of top performing countries around the world.
- The standards emphasize less discrete skills and honor the whole child. In implementing our previous state standards, I felt like I had to race through with little time for the depth my students deserved. Now there are fewer standards so I can take the time to delve in.
Do I want my daughter or my students to regurgitate facts on a test like a computer? No! That’s what Google is for. I want my daughter to have an education where she can be an independent learner and critical thinker where she uses evidence to form opinions and make decisions.
Arizona students also need an assessment that moves beyond ordinary memorization and filling in the bubbles. A new test should allow them to demonstrate what they know, including deeper learning skills that will help students be prepared for college and career. These means less teaching to the test and more class time to delve deeper into the subject matter.
Not to mention that the AIMS test does not match what students are learning in the classroom now. A new assessment needs to be aligned to the standards so teachers have a tool to better understand how our students are actually doing.
We are heading in the right direction. We are building a high-quality educational foundation for every student in Arizona and the nation. Let’s stay the course.
- Beth Maloney is the 2014 AEF Arizona Teacher of the Year and a National Board Certified Teacher. She teaches fifth grade at Sunset Hills Elementary School in Surprise.