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One of the key sticking points in between Seattle teachers and the district relates to standardized tests and the role they ll play in evaluating teachers. Alison Krupnick, ParentMap s new Education Editor, discusses if they really work and the changes some districts are trying to make.

What s different for the 2013-2014 school year, and why the threat of a strike, in part over standardized tests?

The District is preparing to implement what s called Common Core standards, and teachers say the curricula has not been adapted to these new standards so therefore oppose pegging their own professional evaluations to those tests.
For those who wonder what Common Core even is... this is a set of national K-12 grade-level standards in language arts and math used in almost every state in the U.S. The idea is that a third-grader in Arkansas or Massachusetts will be expected to master the same academic standards as a third-grader in Washington.
Common Core standards were developed collaboratively by education experts throughout the U.S. They are internationally benchmarked and are aligned with college and work expectations. There s a greater emphasis on reading and understanding informational texts across disciplines, including science, social studies and technical subjects.

How will this change affect what s happening in classrooms?

Here in Washington, this is the first year we ve had full implementation of Common Core. That means teachers have to adapt their lesson plans to fit the new standards. In some instances, these new standards go deeper into the subject material than what we ve had before. This new level of rigor will be an adjustment for students and for parents and will require teacher training and, in some cases, some new instructional materials.

It s important to understand that these are standards, not curriculum. Teachers and school districts still have the freedom to design lesson plans that best meet the needs of their students. The standards guide what students are expected to learn in each grade. We ve had state designed grade-level academic standards before. This just refines them and makes them consistent with what other states are doing.

What about testing?

In the 2014-2015 school year, we ll be transitioning to a new state standardized test called the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which will be aligned to the Common Core standards. That means, instead of expecting teachers to teach to the test, the test will reflect material already being taught in the classroom.

Common Core has been controversial, especially since New York City released results from its first round of Common Core assessments, in which the number of students deemed proficient dropped significantly from standardized test results in years past. Should Washingtonians be worried?

The New York City test results have certainly fueled the national debate on education. Some say the Common Core standards are too rigorous; others say these test results demonstrate that our kids have not been adequately prepared academically. Since teacher evaluations will be tied to student growth measures, including standardized tests, there is concern that teachers will be negatively impacted if test scores drop.

I think, here in Washington, we need to hold our government and education leaders accountable for a smooth, well-thought out transition and implementation. Make sure our teachers receive adequate professional development and have the materials they need to adapt curriculum. Follow the experiences of other states ahead of us in this transition and learn from their successes and mistakes. And keep parents informed.

So is Common Core a good thing?

I think so. Having a consistent, national set of academic standards means students who move from state to state won t risk missing learning important concepts or repeating material they ve already learned in another grade, in another state.

Increasing the level of academic rigor for all students in the U.S. is important to adequately prepare them for 21st century jobs in the global economy. Teaching them to closely read and interpret a variety of materials is a crucial tool for college and career readiness. If parents want to learn more about details of Common Core, we have links on our ParentMap.com website.

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