Magazine article Techniques

The Common Core, Aligned Assessments and the 21st-Century Classroom: Lessons Learned from Educators

Magazine article Techniques

The Common Core, Aligned Assessments and the 21st-Century Classroom: Lessons Learned from Educators

Article excerpt

Back in the mid '90s when I was in the fifth grade, my classmates and I had the opportunity to do something quite uncommon at the time-take part in a "future" problem-solving competition against other students in which we approached real-world problems with the goal of solving them using only our best research, as well as our analytical- and critical-thinking skills. Waiting with my fellow fifth grade teammates for the competition to begin, I remember feeling overwhelmed by possibilities:

* How would we change the world?

* Where would we find our resources?

* Who were the experts that my team would need to consult to make an accurate and viable argument?

* What if the other teams were just, in fact, savvier than mine?

Although my team didn't win the competition, I still have fond memories of the moments we stood up, presented our arguments and solutions to our peers, and received a polite round of applause. During a time when there was no Internet and computers were seldom found in a classroom, that competition has continued to have a profound impact on my experience in education, leaving me with the conclusion that students should be pushed to be proactive critical thinkers and problem solvers, rather than asked to wait for the problems to come to them. Academic standards had been adopted in my state for many years, but I had to go outside the classroom for a competition in order to be presented with such a challenging and rewarding opportunity.

Upon graduation, I was ready to begin my career, and I hoped that this exceptional opportunity (the fifth grade competition), which took place outside the traditional classroom walls, might have become status quo inside them by this time. I was immediately dismayed to find that my experience many years earlier had not become the norm for students and teachers in the classroom. I diligently tried to repeat some of those exercises that I remembered so well, but felt overwhelmed by the sheer number and narrowness of the academic standards required. I left the classroom feeling that there was more to be done-in a more practical yet innovative way-and I was encouraged that some very smart educators were feeling the same way and were working to make a difference.

The Common Core Debuts

Enter the debut of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)-a set of academic-content standards in English language arts/literacy and mathematics, supported by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and developed by K-12 and higher education experts from across the country. The CCSS are drawn upon the best standards in the country and are internationally benchmarked. They strive to make the way teachers teach more practical, more applicable to those realworld problems I encountered so many years before as a not-so-worldly fifth grader. The standards ask students to analyze multiple texts, synthesize information and create arguments based on facts instead of conjecture. The standards encourage students to stick with problems, to persevere and to consider all the different ways to get to the answer. The standards do not tell students that there is a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem, but rather they encourage students and teachers alike to think creatively about the problem-solving process. The standards are designed to deepen critical thinking and emphasize application of knowledge and skills. They are both aspirational and practical, common sense and innovative, difficult and easy to understand. The standards draw upon the considerations of what teachers would like to see in a 21st-century classroom, and they are a fundamental piece of making those aspirations a reality.

Leading to More Engagement

As with any new set of academic standards, new tests have to be created (or old tests have to be modified) to measure them. In an effort to accurately measure the depth and breadth of the CCSS, two consortia of states came together to think constructively about how to develop tests that would align to the standards. …

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