Common Core is turning out to be a crowbar that pries open almost every imaginable conversation one could have about the state—as well as the future direction—of our schools. There have been conversations about content, discussions about student skill sets, fights about what the government’s role should actually be in public schooling, accusatory language, political mudslinging… I could go on and on.
In fact, I’m not sure there isn’t an aspect of public education that Common Core hasn’t touched. (Like the use of triple double-negatives and how computer-based scoring might not reward sarcasm and irony in a text since machines don’t have the ability to categorize purposeful misuse of language under the banner of “author’s style.”)
Most interesting is the fact that all of these discussions emerged before we even know what the assessments really look like. As many of us know, the tests are (sadly) the tail that wags too much of the dog in our nation’s schools today. Now that one of the consortiums has released a boatload of sample questions, though, more issues are coming into clearer perspective.
I’ve taken some of the released sample tests. My biggest insight didn’t come into the type of thinking required to succeed and do well. It came from the degree of perseverance necessary to step up to meet the demands now being placed on kids.
One not only has to be capable to do well—one has to demonstrate extended fortitude. And these are NOT the same two skills.
Indeed, the degree to which academic stamina will now play a greater role than ever before leapt out at me. I have graduate degrees, many published books, and still, the 8th grade test required me to be a diligent reader, and a concise writer. There was no BS-ing my way through it—and it took me a lot longer than I ever might have expected to complete the material.
(Remember: This was for the 8th grade test. I can only imagine what actual 8th graders are going to think.)
All in all, however, I exited the test feeling optimistic. Yes, these next few years are going to be rough. But just like an out-of-shape, middle aged, fast food eating, non-exercising person who decides to take up marathon running, the initial workouts will be supremely challenging.
The years 2014, 2015, and 2016 will be tough sledding, no doubt. By the time the current crop of kindergarteners are in 4th or 5th grade—and the current crop of 3rd graders are in 8th grade—I do believe we’re going to see a real elevation of skills in American kids wrought by hard work, elevated expectations, and amplified demands. In my opinion, that's a very good thing.
Personally, I didn't find the degree of difficulty to be thermo-nuclear. Having said that, it wasn't a cakewalk either. Yes, thoughtfulness was required. Yet it was the extended length of thoughtfulness required that gave even me pause.
Have I mentioned academic stamina? Did I mention the voluminous amount of writing?
Did I mention that unless one is a proficient reader, the chances of students being strong enough writers to do well are most probably very low?
We often think of tenacity, fortitude, grit, and determination as the “soft skills” in education, whereas cognitive competence—as demonstrated by answering test questions correctly—is proof of the “hard skills.” After taking the sample tests, I believe those aforementioned “soft skills” are going to need a lot more attention.