Common Core: Student success requires diversity, not standardization



Student success requires diversity, not standardization

Joan Kamila Lewis

By Joan Lewis

Standardized testing for Common Core outcomes is an oxymoron. These two can never go together because the nature of standardized testing requires homogenized thinking, and is set up to determine a single correct answer.

The goal of Common Core standards is to develop critical thinking skills that, by their nature, are likely to lead to diverse “correct” responses. If our students achieve the aims of these standards, it is unlikely that they will receive high scores on any standardized test.

This is not because the students are unable to think critically, but rather because they can, and their ability to do so cannot be confined to any standardized assessment — no matter what the curriculum developers promise.

Through Common Core curriculum, our students are being taught how to look at information and determine what it is conveying, what bias an author might have in conveying that message, and whether or not the writer or the source is credible. From that, they are to form their own thoughts and positions on issues.

While they may all be using the same facts, each student adds something unique: themselves. It is the reason that Einstein could use the same information that was available to other scientists of his day and come up with the theory of relativity. It is why both Fox and MSNBC can use the exact same information to come up with two opposing positions.

The human factor leads to diversity, not standardization. If our students are critically thinking, standardized tests will not measure their excellence appropriately. Real-world simulations may measure this; problem-solving events like our robotics competitions may measure this; real-life experiences are the ultimate measure for this. Standardized tests will never accurately measure this.

Unfortunately for our students, our teachers and our public schools, instead of the tests being graded as a failure, they will be.

This particular disconnect is evident in every aspect of our national education assessment philosophy. As a country we are constantly trying to measure ourselves against every other country in the world. We will hear about the greatness of Finland and the performance of China. However, this means that we are using standardized testing to grade a country that in every way possible wants to celebrate individuality, personal choice and diversity.

We are not homogenized by ethnicity, and our schools are not homogenized by gender. We also do not homogenize our student populations by keeping those that are identified as having special needs out of school.

But, we also do not have a homogenized safety net for the social issues our children endure. Our economy does not ensure that we all have the same access to housing, medical care, early education, technology, transportation and food. Our schools are supposed to be a level playing field for all, but we are clearly not standardized in that area, either.

Trying to get standardized outcomes from critical thinkers is not just an oxymoron, it is impossible. It is also why teachers, parents and community members are demanding that Congress change its educational emphasis.

Critical thinkers everywhere can see that we cannot continue squandering our financial resources and precious learning time on standardized testing for Common Core curriculum. Hawaii’s teachers are stuck spending too much time teaching to test rather than teaching to learn. Our country’s success requires that we invest in our students, their teachers and our public schools, not tests that cannot measure what matters.

Joan Lewis is vice president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, a teacher lobbyist and Kapolei High School teacher.