Do Common Core Standards Have Implications for Catholic Schools?

Article excerpt

Is there need for a national discussion among the faith-based and independent schools concerning the implications of national standards and assessments?

More than 40 states have agreed to adopt a set of high-quality common K-12 learning standards that include rigorous content and application of knowledge using higher-order thinking skills. Implementation of the standards has triggered the development of comprehensive assessment systems to measure how and what students learn along with the production of curricula, textbooks, digital media, teaching materials, professional development for teachers and other resources aligned to the standards. What implications will this have for Catholic schools?

Concerns about the quality of students' learning first surfaced in the Sputnik era and were intensified with the publication of "A Nation at Risk" that exposed the "mediocre educational performance" of America's educational system. The recommendation that schools adopt "more rigorous and measurable standards, and higher expectations, for academic performance and student conduct" began the period of standards based reform that culminated in the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002.

NCLB mandated a focus on standards and assessments that were to foster proficiency in mathematics and reading for all students by 2014. Although many states appeared close to attaining that goal, the large disparities between student performance results on state assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that produces the "Nation's Report Card" evidenced significantly lower state standards to reach proficiency than those set by NAEP. This prompted calls for more uniformity and consistency in what all students across the nation should know and be able to do at each grade level. Also, the poor performance of U.S. students when compared with other nations on two international assessments, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), has been attributed to the fact that all higher-scoring countries have national standards, with core curriculum, assessments and professional development activities for teachers based on those standards.

Although periodic calls for the adoption of national standards have been rejected in the past, there is a growing consensus around the idea that there is a core of knowledge that students must know and skills they need to possess that should guide decisions about curriculum and assessment. The assumption is that creating consistent and clearer standards that will allow teachers to focus on fewer select topics in depth rather than numerous topics superficially will raise student achievement in the areas needed to be successful in college and the workforce.

Initiated by the Business Community

The standards movement was initiated by the business community, supported by the Business Roundtable and the National Governors Association (NGA), who were concerned that in order to remain competitive in today's global, knowledge-based economy, employers need graduates proficient in 21st century skills that rely on information technology and critical thinking to innovate and solve problems. Likewise, the Obama administration's priorities have contributed to the movement with a strong focus on the adoption of rigorous college and career-ready standards with aligned assessments as a means of providing a high-quality education for all students.

Since there are political and philosophical agendas triggered by the concept of a national curriculum, the terms national and federal have been dropped and replaced with a process called the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI). While receiving encouragement from the federal government, the standards are not a government project. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) led the process that developed collegeand career-readiness standards and content-specific English-language arts and mathematics standards for grades K-12 that are "research and evidencebased, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations and include rigorous content and skills. …