The Answer Sheet: Common Core Isn’t Preparing Students Very Well for College or Career, New Report Says
Student desks in Chandni Langford’s fifth-grade classroom, in Woodbury, N.J., on May 2. Langford wrote inspirational messages directly on the desks before students started four days of Common Core-aligned tests. (Crystal Ramirez via AP)
A new report that surveys curriculum nationally and reaches thousands of K-12 and college instructors as well as workplace supervisors and employees has some bad news about the Common Core State Standards: Many people in education and the workplace don’t think some of the English Language Arts and math standards — which are being used in most states — are what students and workers need to be successful in college and career.
Common Core started out as a push by states to improve learning standards, but it has made education an even more contentious issue. Here are the most common criticisms about Common Core. (Claritza Jimenez/The Washington Post)
The report, issued by ACT Inc., finds:
• There are gaps between some Core standards and what college instructors consider important for students to succeed — especially in the area of writing. For example, middle- and high-school teachers say that they have been emphasizing analyzing source texts and summarizing other authors’ ideas as required by the Core, but college instructors say they value this much less than the “ability to generate sound ideas — a skill applicable across much broader contexts.”
• Many elementary school teachers continue to teach math concepts that are not included in the Core standards for their grades but that they think are important.
• While some teachers have changed their instruction significantly to align with the Core, many haven’t.
• Though the Core standards were designed to prepare students for college and career, the survey found that many workplace supervisors and employees believe skills necessary for success are not part of the Core. Specifically, they say that the No. 1 skill that ensures success is “conscientiousness.”
The 2016 ACT National Curriculum Survey® looks at educational practices and college and career expectations, with results taken from surveys completed by thousands of K-12 teachers and college instructors in English and writing, math, reading, and science. This year, ACT asked workforce supervisors and employees to complete the survey too to see what specifically is being taught in these subjects at each grade level and what material is deemed to be important for college and career readiness.
The Common Core standards were designed to prepare students for successful career and college experiences, but the study shows that there are gaps between vision and reality. In a statement, Marten Roorda, chief executive officer of ACT Inc., said that the study’s conclusions are not intended as a “rebuke” of the Core, but that they “highlight the disconnect between what is emphasized in the Common Core and what some college instructors perceive as important to college readiness.”
In March, more than 100 education researchers in California issued a brief saying that there is no “compelling” evidence that the Common Core State Standards will improve the quality of education for children or close the achievement gap, and that Common Core assessments lack “validity, reliability and fairness.” The researchers, from public and private universities in California — including Stanford University, UCLA, and the University of California at Berkeley — said in a brief that the Core standards do not do academically what supporters said they would and that linking them to high-stakes tests harms students.
Originally created and adopted by almost all states with bipartisan support, the Core has become increasingly controversial, with people at different ends of the political spectrum criticizing the initiative for different reasons. Some educators and researchers questioned the way the standards were written (whether, for example, there was any or enough input from working teachers) while others criticized the content of the standards, especially for young children. Some critics said standards-based education has never been shown to work well to improve academic achievement. Others said the Obama administration’s involvement in the initiative usurped local authority. The subject of the Core even became fodder for comedians, such as Louis C.K., who tweeted that the Core was negatively affecting his daughters in school.
Here are some of the conclusions from the report:
1. There are discrepancies between some state standards and what some educators believe is important for college readiness.
Although standards are developed to help ensure that all students graduate from high school ready for college and career in English language arts and mathematics, some results of the ACT National Curriculum Survey suggest that some state standards may not reflect college readiness in some aspects.
In English Language Arts finding 2, high-school teachers and perhaps some middle-school teachers may be emphasizing certain approaches to writing over others due to a concern for source-based writing in response to the Common Core State Standards. But if so, college instructors appear to value some key features of source-based writing (the ability to analyze source texts and summarize other authors’ ideas) much less than the ability to generate sound ideas — a skill applicable across much broader contexts.
In Mathematics finding 1, some early elementary school teachers report that they are still teaching some of the topics omitted from the Common Core State Standards at certain early grade levels, perhaps in part because the teachers perceive that students are entering their classrooms unprepared for the demands that later mathematics courses will make of them.
Also in finding 1, less than half of middle-school and high-school teachers believe that the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics are aligned “a great deal” or “completely” with college instructors’ expectations for college readiness.
2. Calculator use is quite prevalent in the K-12 mathematics classroom.
According to Mathematics finding 2, most K-12 teachers teach students how to use calculators to perform computations and graph equations, and teachers in later grades commonly allow students to use calculators on classroom exams. This is true even as these teachers also continue to value and teach the skill of executing mathematics processes without the aid of technology.
3. There may be disagreement across K-12, college, and workforce about which mathematics topics are important to success in postsecondary STEM coursework and STEM careers. In K-12, there may also be disagreement about when these topics should be introduced in the mathematics curriculum.
Mathematics finding 4 indicates that although middle-school and high-school teachers generally agree about what mathematics skills are important to success in STEM courses and careers, college instructors or workforce respondents ascribed much less importance to those skills. In addition, many mathematics teachers in grades 4-7 report including certain topics relevant in STEM coursework in their curricula at grades earlier than they appear in the Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards. Perhaps these teachers fear that delaying these topics will prevent their students from success in later STEM coursework, or perhaps there is a lack of cross-content coordination with science to streamline what knowledge and skills are required of students at each grade.
4. Science educators believe that science achievement is best assessed using science assessments.
In Science finding 5, science educators in middle school, high school, and college overwhelmingly prefer a dedicated, standalone test that asks students to engage with authentic scientific scenarios (such as the ACT science test) as the best method of assessing student achievement in science.
5. Overall, workforce respondents appear to value a unique set of knowledge and skills as important to success in the workplace.
Results from both the Workforce portion of the ACT National Curriculum Survey 2016 and the education portions suggest that some of what workforce supervisors and employees value or do not value as important to entry-level success is not easily categorized, and sometimes perhaps unexpected. For example:
— Workforce finding 2 shows that majorities of both supervisors and employees place high value on the somewhat unusual skill of understanding the ethical use of information.
— According to Workforce finding 3, supervisors and employees report that workplace communication relies more heavily on face-to-face communication than on written communication. And, perhaps in keeping with this finding, workforce respondents also place high value on speaking and listening as contributors to positive outcomes for employees on the job. In addition, two of the six most highly rated workplace communication skills relate to the demeanor with which the employee presents information.
— As discussed in English Language Arts finding 1, supervisors indicated that employees in entry-level positions should be able to write narrative texts as well as informational and persuasive texts. Supervisors also value an employee’s ability to tailor communications to enhance understanding and to reconcile gaps in understanding.
— Mathematics finding 2 shows that workforce respondents value facility with certain kinds of technology (e.g., calculators, graphing calculators, equation editors) much less than educators do.
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