Six years ago, supporters of the national Common Core academic standards thought they had the formula to measure student success. Under the Common Core, states would agree to teach the same material in the same sequence to all students. The ensuing tests would measure all students according to the same material. We would track the results and compare student achievement across the country.
If only teaching children was so simple.
As centrally-planned policies are prone to do, the Common Core unraveled. South Carolina and Oklahoma left the standards citing, among other things, “federal intrusion” and vowed to replace the standards with better content. A group of states that agreed to offer the same test to students lost half of its state members by 2015. Three months ago, New Jersey had to postpone all student testing in grades 3-11 because the Pearson Education’s testing software malfunctioned.
Then came the Gates Foundation’s admission earlier this year that the Common Core isn’t ready and the “foundation underestimated the level of resources and support required.” The foundation’s mea culpa is significant because of the organization’s commitment to national standards and the associated financial support.
Despite this morass, some in Georgia still claim that alternatives to national standards and testing will cause more problems than pressing ahead with the Common Core. Most parents would agree that “whether they come from a civilian or military family, all children deserve to be held to high, consistent academic expectations that fully prepare them to succeed after high school.”
Yet there are other—and better—ways to do this than national standards.
In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education approved New Hampshire’s pilot project to administer the Common Core tests in fewer grades and use the SAT for high schoolers. Students will have ongoing projects during the school year to measure learning. Education leaders in states like Indiana are considering this alternative.
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2544 this year, which allows public schools to choose from a “menu” of tests to measure student progress. Rep. Paul Boyer, chair of the House Education Committee, and Sen. Sylvia Allen, chair of the Senate Education Committee, led the legislative effort.
Schools should be allowed to choose from existing national norm-referenced achievement tests like the Stanford series of tests or the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. This way, schools could use a test that aligns with what they already teach—not curriculum imposed from somewhere else—and, because the tests are nationally normed, the scores could be compared across schools.
Critically, district and charter schools would have the same autonomy to choose what and how to teach while still measuring achievement in a comparable way across localities. The Common Core didn’t deliver, so Georgia lawmakers should be looking for solutions like those in Arizona and New Hampshire.