Report: Common Core assignments not up to par

Only 38 percent of assignments were aligned with a grade-appropriate standard
By: | Issue: November, 2015
October 12, 2015

It’s been five years since many states adopted more rigorous college and career readiness standards, but most classroom assignments do not meet the high bar that was established, according to a September report from The Education Trust.

“Some people say that just by implementing Common Core and other new learning standards we will get to higher-order thinking, and frankly, we did not see that,” says Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K12 policy and practice at The Education Trust. “It has to be intentional.”

In the report, “Checking in: Do classroom assignments reflect today’s higher standards?” researchers analyzed assignments from 92 teachers from six urban middle schools. They examined nearly 1,600 in- and out-of-school lessons students completed independently or in groups.

Only 38 percent of assignments were aligned with a grade-appropriate standard. Rates in high-poverty schools were considerably lower, at roughly one-third of all assignments, the report states.

Too often, educators in schools with large numbers of low-income students do not expect their students to achieve even at grade level, says Santelises, lead author of the report. “When you have kids with ground to gain, we should not keep them tethered to low-level skills, instead of things that will help them transition.”

Lack of rigor

The Common Core recommends literacy lessons that engage students in critical thinking skills and close reading of different types of texts.

Fifty-five percent of assignments analyzed by the report were connected to a text. However, only 16 percent required students to use the text to support a position or a claim.

For example, text-based questions often asked students to recall or retell basic facts but did not prompt them to make an inference, structural analysis or author critiqueÑskills the Common Core says are necessary for college and career readiness.

Many assignments were broken down into bite-size chunks, and failed to encourage students to grapple with big ideas. And most discussions were brief, and did not push students to develop new perspectives, the researchers note.

Tips for administrators

Administrators must demonstrate what the standards look like in everyday lessons for teachers, and ensure that teachers have the resources needed for implementation, Santelises says. She also recommends administrators do the following:

In PD sessions, ensure the assignments given by teachers meet the goals of new standards.
Adjust PD as standards are updated. Avoid the idea that standards can’t change once they are implemented.
Examine whether the new curriculum improves learning outcomes for students who were low-achieving under past standards. New standards should help students advance to grade level or higher.

“Too often we say we have high standards, and then ignore the real challenges students have or don’t look deeply enough to see they haven’t changed,” Santelises says. “It’s incumbent upon administrators not to shirk away from those questions.”