The New York State Education Department releases new tests in English Language Arts and Mathematics as early as tomorrow. These new tests are the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) and are designed to make students more “college ready” in the years to come. There are opportunities and challenges which will come with the decision to upgrade testing standards (CCLS) for all students.
Essentially, this goal in implementation means that students will be able to handle college work without the current emphasis on non-credit courses in college, which many students face as the price of admission even with a high school diploma in hand.
The new tests are aimed at evaluating critical thinking skills with less emphasis on memorization, recall, arithmetic compilation, and mastering some of the standard geometric forms. The thinking is to graduate students who have a good knowledge of the verbal and analytical dynamics of pre-K to 12 while possessing the critical thinking skills to apply the knowledge in more complex applications of the material.
This goal alone has considerable merit; however, there are other issues lurking in the background. First, a growing number of students (perhaps as large as 33%) have no particular interest in college. Many seek to pursue the trades like electrical, plumbing, boiler repair, professional chefs, construction labor, building maintenance, arts and crafts, music, or even opening up a small business. These students should not be forced into learning a rigorous academic sequence.
Secondly, upgrading the testing regimen does not deal forthrightly with the need to teach English language immersion from pre-K onward. Our school system should have to access advanced linguistic methodologies taught by Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone, and others. Even beyond language, students need to learn how to set boundaries so that they can complete the learning cycle in the home environment.
Teaching students how to set boundaries means arranging for small group participation sessions in order to rehearse student responses as early as pre-K. Lastly, teachers must establish a liaison with parents to ensure that the home environment is either conducive to learning or can be made conducive to learning. In some cases, students will be required to access school libraries or public libraries to complete homework because the home environment may not be accomodative for completing the learning cycle.
The movement toward upgrading academic standards throughout New York State can have important long term benefits; however, there are limitations to just upgrading standards without addressing the issues enumerated above.
More work must be done in the early grades to ensure that students have the necessary professional language immersion together with small group behavior sessions which teach children how to set meaningful and necessary boundaries in their families and peer group relationships.