A return to school means a return to Common Core standards in math and English language arts, but a recent report shows that the standards may not be in the best interest of the state’s educational system.
Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, released independent study results Aug. 5 that showed the previous Georgia Performance Standards were more rigorous and detailed than Common Core.
“This is a study that’s not just pulled out of the air,” said Gainesville Superintendent Merrianne Dyer. “(These are) reputable people that have done the study. I would think we would welcome a study like that to be done.”
The studies were independently conducted by Mary Kay Bacallao, a mathematics professor at Mercer University’s Tift College, and Sandra Stotsky, the professor emerita of education reform at the University of Arkansas. Stotsky is also a former member of the Common Core Validation Committee.
Dyer pointed out that there are studies that show the other side of the issue, as well.
“I think it’s been surprising how politicized it’s become,” Dyer said. She suggested that some of the concern may stem from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation being one of the main sources of funding for the development of the standards.
Hall County Superintendent Will Schofield said that he has heard various concerns, but nothing “overwhelming” at the local level.
“I think the issue is people have a legitimate concern for there being too much Washington in their lives,” he said.
Adoption of Common Core was essential in attaining federal funding from the Race to the Top grant.
Ligon, who has been outspoken against the standards since being elected in 2010, said his concern is that Georgia is no longer in control of education.
“What we’ve done by entering into the consortium of states and participating in the Common Core, the state has lost its autonomy in having absolute control of the standards of what would be taught in the state of Georgia,” Ligon said.
Schofield said that he could see the pros and cons of both Common Core and the previous Georgia Performance Standards.
“I’d hesitate to call one better than the other,” he said. “I think they’re both what the experts call rigorous. But in my mind, I think a lot of times what folks are calling rigorous is just trying to cover too much material in too little time.”
The two reports for both math and English language arts stated that key elements involved in the original state standards were left out in Common Core. For example, mathematical concepts like pi, area and circle circumference were left out of the elementary levels.
Using fractions, decimals and percents interchangeably is gone completely, the math report says.
In the Common Core document, understanding decimal notation for fractions and comparing decimal fractions were under the fourth-grade overview.
The published report also states that division of a fraction by a fraction is missing from the elementary grade levels, while the Common Core document has the standard of “apply and extend previous understandings of multiplication and division to multiply and divide fractions” for fifth grade.
However, an asterisk does say that dividing fractions by fractions is not required in fifth grade. Completing the “understanding of division of fractions” is listed for sixth grade.
Common Core standards scored particularly low in the English language arts report. One of the main criticisms said that there was not enough focus on reading and comprehending literature. Instead, the standards focus on comprehension of nonfiction and practical texts.
“Most standards do not show meaningful increases in intellectual difficulty over the grades because they are generic skills” the report reads in part.
In the beginning of the Common Core standards, it notes that it defines “what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.”
The standards encourage teachers and school leaders to develop the curriculum at a local level.
Hall County schools have been taking steps in that direction, with Schofield asking the board of education to develop a committee to review the social studies curriculum.
“I don’t know how anybody else interprets it but I still continue to believe that local school boards, at the end of the day, need to make the decision about what’s going to be taught to their children,” Schofield said.
“But, I suspect if there’s not some meaningful dialogue at the state and national level, we’ll probably move into the other subject areas as well.”
Ligon said that a review of this type regarding Common Core should have been done before the standards were adopted in 2010.
“If there had been a seeking out of evaluations and criticisms from our teachers and professors, then these are things that we probably would have discovered, and we wouldn’t find ourselves in the position we are in now,” he said.
“I believe that what is happening now is actually Common Core is getting the public review and comment which it should have had before Georgia committed to it. And what we’re finding, at least from what I see, is that we made a bad deal.”
While participation in Common Core helped bring Race to the Top grant money to the state, it has been a bad deal at least as far as testing goes. Georgia has pulled out of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career consortium due to the $29.50 per test, per student price tag. That would have led to $27.5 million per year for the tests in just math and English language arts, substantially more than the state’s $25 million budget for all testing.
State leaders said that the state would develop its own testing, but Gov. Nathan Deal said last week that testing costs will rise despite withdrawing from PARCC.
Ligon called withdrawal from the PARCC consortium the “right move.”
“But again, if you’re going to be testing on what the Common Core standards are teaching, then we’re going to have some deficiencies,” he added.
Neither Dyer nor Schofield would remark on whether or not they feel standards will revert back to Georgia Performance Standards, or evolve to something different.
“The most important thing to us as a school system is that our students in our system and the state of Georgia are being taught standards that will put them on a competitive level with the rest of the country and the globe,” Dyer said.
Schofield said that many of the Common Core standards were derived from the original Georgia Performance Standards, so at a school level, very few changes were made to accommodate Common Core when it was implemented.
“We’re going to continue to go full-speed ahead, and just teach what’s in front of us,” Schofield said.
“The key for me, and the key for our teachers is that we’re going to teach children, build relationships and give them feedback. And we’ll leave the arguing about what we’re going to call our standards to other folks.”