We’ve been hearing for several decades about threats to the American way of life. Some examples of threats to our democracy and economic prosperity include: global economic competitiveness, outmoded and inequitable teaching and learning environments, changing demographics, widening income inequality and academic achievement gaps, rapid technological advancements, and radically different work environments that rely on brains more than on brawn.
The world, in short, is a different one from the one in which I grew up, let alone the one in which my parents’ generation came up. Report after report decries our students’ and workforce’s ability to adapt to these changing conditions. And it is a fact that a global knowledge economy indeed means we are expecting more people than ever before to learn, know and apply more than they ever have before – both to secure and contribute to gainful employment but importantly to participate in a democratic society increasingly reliant on technology and high levels of literacy.
So what does this mean for Washington? Washington is one of 46 states to voluntarily adopt the Common Core State Standards in math and English/language arts, which are designed to better prepare students for college, work and life. Common Core provides benchmarks, or standards, for teaching and learning at every grade level. The standards are consistent across states and match the standards used by top-performing nations. These standards are more rigorous and comprehensive than Washington’s previous academic standards, and they focus on more critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The standards are designed to build on the most advanced current thinking – in the United States and internationally – about preparing all students for success in college and their careers.
Because the set of standards provides a framework for what students should know at each grade level, local schools and teachers – in 295 school districts and more than 2,000 individual schools – it will continue to have control over instructional resources and other local decisions, such as how the standards are taught. Local educators will determine the methods and materials that best meet the needs of their students, making sure every student understands the material well and every student is achieving the new, more rigorous and comprehensive standards.
In the 2013-14 academic year, Washington students and educators will begin working with these more rigorous and comprehensive standards preparing students for new assessments – aligned to the Common Core – during 2014-15. Research shows that when you raise learning expectations, students will work harder to meet them. Common Core sets high learning expectations for all students, yet it may take some time for students to meet and exceed them. With the higher, more rigorous and comprehensive Common Core standards, Washington – like other states – is poised to administer better exams that more accurately measure students’ college and career readiness and their progress year by year. This has been a request of educators and employers alike. It is anticipated that test scores may drop when the new exams are first given, but this information will provide Washingtonians with a clearer picture of where students are struggling and how we can better support their preparation for college and life in a competitive global economy.
Meanwhile it is important for districts and the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to continue to provide teachers and principals with information, training, and support. Washington parents, educators, and lawmakers should recognize that, while long overdue in many ways, it will take time for students and their educators to incorporate the new practices that best meet the demands associated with the standards in math and English/language arts – and in the near future in science and then social studies. After all, the standards build on each other progressively over time.
This is a big change in the way students learn and one that will take time to see results, but it is an approach that will help Washington students compete for the quality jobs our state has to offer and become participants in our state’s democracy. To learn more about Washington’s efforts – whether teacher, principal, parent, student, community member or employer – contact ReadyWa.org.
Jana Carlisle is executive director of the Partnership for Learning, the education foundation of the Washington Roundtable, a statewide nonprofit organization that communicates the need for all Washington’s students to graduate from high school ready for career and college. As a trusted source of information, Partnership for Learning makes complex education issues accessible.