In 2009 the state governors and commissioners of education in the US began creating what has become known as the Common Core Standards—goals to better the education of our public school students as they go through school, year by year, and in the basic courses of high school. The best practices in use around the US and the world were culled to create these standards using teacher, parent and expert advice. Forty-three states have adopted these standards and have begun the process of implementing them within their borders.
Controversy abounds, especially criticism that the standards demand too much of students. Two states backed out of the standards after adopting them.
The Common Core initiatives are striving to “level the playing field” among states, giving students in poorly performing states the same goals and criteria for measurement of success as students in better performing states.
Each adopting state’s department of education figured out its own way to use these standards. In Georgia, where I live, end-of-year tests known as the Georgia Milestones were developed for grades three to eight, and end-of course tests were developed for certain high school math, English, science and social studies courses. These tests must account for 20 percent of a student’s final grade.
In the Georgia English Language Arts courses, 53 percent of the test grade is based on reading and vocabulary, and 47 percent is based on writing and other language arts criteria. The tests consist of
• multiple choice questions;
• open-ended questions (where the student must supply an answer not suggested in the test question);
• a narrative which the student must read, followed by a prompt which the student must answer by writing several sentences, using information from the narrative; and
• two narratives on a single subject which the student must read, followed by a prompt to which the student must answer with an essay-like response.
The Georgia English Language Arts test questions test four levels of knowledge:
• recall of information—knowing the facts;
• basic reasoning—describing and explaining;
• complex reasoning—justifying how and why by applying evidence from experience or from reading passages; and
• extended reasoning—connecting and relating ideas and providing evidence.
Although Georgia’s English Language Milestone tests vary from tests used in other states, all the tests demand the following from students:
• close reading of a text, meaning going beneath the surface of a reading passage or book to look for deeper meaning;
• finding and examining textual evidence, meaning answering questions based on what the text says, not on what a student thinks is true;
• supplying textual proof (page number, paragraph number, source);
• answering specific, thought-provoking questions which are dependent on the text; and
• using academic vocabulary.