Don’t Throw the Standards Out With the Bathwater


An essay by Carol Burris was recently published in the Washington Post that discussed elementary school math tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  I love reading Burris’s commentary.  She’s a talented writer, an astute observer and critic of current education reform policies.  But this essay doesn’t sit quite right with me…

Regardless of whether you are a fan of the CCSS or not, it’s really important to distinguish between the Standards and their implementation.  That is, let’s be clear that there is an important difference between

·         the actual document (you know, the one that teachers are going to keep in a binder on their desk and refer to when they have questions about what their students are supposed to learn during the year)

·         all the other stuff (you know, the fist-banging, hackles-raising, growl-inducing stuff…  like roll-out policies; professional development for teachers; implications for teacher evaluation systems; high-stakes, standardized tests; intended and unintended consequences; implications of inflexible grade demarkations; blah; blah; blah)

I’m afraid Ms. Burris’s essay conflated these two things.  What she did was: 

(1)   analyze a particularly heinous example of a CCSS-aligned, first grade math test

(2)  trash it (justifiably) for its developmental inappropriateness

(3)  parlay this into beef with the actual CCSS document

In a nutshell, I think what Ms. Burris overlooked, and what it would behoove us to remember, is that there are developmentally appropriate ways to assess rigorous, conceptually distinct  standards for young students.  These methods are certainly not the norm, but they exist.

In my teaching career, I found two early childhood assessments that were so developmentally appropriate, that were so well designed, that yielded so much immediately useful information for me as a teacher, that I would have chosen to administer them to my students even if they hadn’t been mandated by my district. 

These two assessments were administered one-on-one, involved myriad manipulatives (counters, dice, little plastic bears, flashcards, letter cards, game boards, tokens, geometric blocks, etc.), and were structured as interactive activities.  Honestly, students thought they were games and would argue and clamor to be tested.  And because these assessments were so thoughtfully designed, when the testing window closed, I would have a very clear picture of my students’ current levels of understanding.

My point is this: don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I will be the first in line to voice my concerns about how the Standards are being implemented.  But it’s worth remembering, in any discussion about the CCSS, that at the heart the debate, behind all the yelling, is a surprisingly traditional, well-articulated standards document that is endorsed by the vast majority of teachers.



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