The Difference Between Standards, Curriculum, and Testing

If you’re in a PARCC state and haven’t already taken the PARCC practice test for the grade you teach, I highly suggest you do so. I was shocked at its complexity and short time frame for completion. Here’s the thing: I like taking tests, I like to read and interpret literature (I was an English major after all!), I like comparing texts. However, during this test, I remember just feeling panicked and confused and I kept thinking about my students taking this test and how overwhelming it would seem to them.

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I like the Common Core State Standards. I think what they do is set a reasonable bar that builds and develops on itself in order to reach a set of skills that students need in college and their careers. I think that’s good. I think close reading is important because it requires the reader to pay close attention to what the message is (what is written and what is implied) and dig deep into the meaning. I like that the standards are succinct and limited. I like that the appendices are available as a resource if you so choose. I genuinely feel that good teaching of literature will match up with the CCSS anyway, so instead of going from standard to curriculum, I would focus on curriculum first.

Which brings me to my next point: standards are not curriculum. The CCSS doesn’t tell you what you’ll actually be teaching or how the students will be learning the skills. It’s up to you (hooray!) to determine the best path for your students or the variety of paths you’ll present them. Unfortunately, districts tend to leave out the curriculum portion in their planning and skip from standards to materials, leaving teachers without forethought and planning. Publishing companies tend to jump on the bandwagon and produce “CCSS Aligned Materials” which are produced in order to make money not to teach children. I believe that the backlash for the CCSS has a lot to do with this gap in planning. Schools still need to develop and refine their curriculum and choose materials based on what best matches their plans. The curriculum needs to be checked against the standards to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the students, but most importantly checked against the actual students to determine whether we’re meeting them where they are and pushing them forward or going well above or well below their capabilities.

And then there’s the PARCC test.

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Ugh. I wish I could be in these meetings and hear the discussions on the questions with these people. My problem is not that I don’t believe my fourth graders (that’s the test I took) aren’t capable of doing the work the test asks them to do, it’s just that at this point in their brain development and thinking, they aren’t doing these things completely on their own. There is a lot of guidance and structure that goes in to building them up to these skills. I don’t feel the questions are appropriate especially in the given time allotment.

I also didn’t agree with some of the answers on the test, which was really frustrating because I felt confused about how I would help a student understand a concept that the test told me was different than what I determined.

It’s not all bad.

I’m glad we’re trying to push ourselves and therefore working with students to develop deeper thinking strategies. And who knows - as the teachers are working harder to dig deeper, I might see some fourth graders in a few years who can tackle the test no problem. I just want to make sure we’re testing them where they should be and not where they will be in three years.

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