Special Assignment

What is Common Core?

CREATED Feb 7, 2014

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MEQUON – Sophie, 9, is a true 21st Century kid.

She’s computer saavy, she loves games, and she enjoys going to school.

“I get to play with my friends and learn different things,” Sophie exclaimed.

”She’s a good student. She’s been described as a little bit of a social butterfly. She must get that from her father,” joked Niko, Sophie’s mom.

Niko knows classrooms aren’t what they used to be. Nowadays, a lot has changed when it comes to the way teachers teach and students learn.

“We’ve gotten letters home and everything. They’ve really stressed testing. And how important it is that the schools are tested at the end of the year, and they show that there has definitely been an improvement overall at the end of the year for the school,” Niko explained.

Sophie’s experience isn’t uncommon.

Schools around the country are actively retooling their lesson plans in an effort to make sure kids have the skills they need to excel academically and make it to college.

Those guidelines, established by educators nearly four years ago, are called Common Core State Standards.

‘Common Core’ focuses on two areas: English-language arts and mathematics.

The standards contain a tougher list of requirements than many school districts have ever seen.

Already, 45 states have pledged to take part in the process.

“It’s not a curriculum. It’s not a textbook. It’s not an instructional strategy. It’s just a statement about what a kid needs to know and be able to do,” explained Emilie Amundson, director of Wisconsin’s ‘Common Core State Standards Team.’

Amundson is in charge of adapting the standards for Wisconsin classrooms.

Wisconsin started slowly phasing in CCSS in 2010. The full launch is scheduled to take place later this year.

“2014-15 is a huge year because it’s the first year our assessments are aligned to the Common Core State Standards,” Amundson said.

The move toward a nationwide baseline for learning, however, isn’t sitting well with some parents.

Madison-area dad Jeffrey Horn is one of the driving forces behind the group ‘Stop Common Core in Wisconsin,” which boasts thousands of members.

Horn tells TODAY’S TMJ4 he’s concerned educators will be forced to get results instead of educate.

“The kids in Wisconsin are going to become incredibly average,” Horn exclaimed

“[Teachers are] going to put a lot of effort into just teaching to the test, making sure kids do well on a test, regardless of what they actually learn. And that means less time for actually learning.”

Moms and dads are also worried they won’t have a say in how their kids learn.

“Standards are really the last nail in the coffin of putting local control to bed in Wisconsin.”

The Department of Public Instruction claims school districts are allowed to set their own guidelines, though achievement tests and college entrance exams like the ACT will soon be aligned with CCSS.

West Bend’s school district is an early-adopter of the new, tougher standards, but district officials only treat the guidelines as minimum requirements.

“Being ‘state average’ is not something everyone in the state of Wisconsin maps to. They map to be beyond it,” exclaimed superintendent Ted Neitzke.

Neitzke built his system’s curriculum *on top* of the Common Core State Standards.

“[For example], we have algebra by the end of 8th Grade for all of our students. We have highest levels of reading for our 3rd through 5th Graders. And what we’ve been doing is we’ve been tracking that and measuring how our students do and how they perform,” he explained.

So far, so good, according to Neitzke. Though the pressure on teachers and kids to perform on tests is paramount.

“Kindergarten with blocks and trucks is gone. Kindergarten is now reading and writing,” Neitzke said.

“Realistically, are the standards too high? No. Realistically, can every kid adhere to them? No. But it’s not going to stop us from trying.”

In January, Governor Scott Walker announced he’ll work to create a commission to review the work on Wisconsin’s version of the Common Core State Standards. He’d like to see districts go beyond those requirements to place Wisconsin ahead of the pack.

Wisconsin uses the Smarter Balanced Assessment to gauge student performance. We encourage you to take a look for yourself and see how your kids will be tested.

Related Links:
Smarter Balanced Assessment Practice Tests
Wisconsin’s CCSS guide
Stop Common Core in Wisconsin