As the last year of Delaware's current system of student testing comes to a close, educators are focusing on a new test and the standards it will measure.
Common Core Standards are part of a national movement to standardize learning across state lines. Delaware joined early on as part of the Race to the Top initiative, receiving millions of dollars in funding in exchange. The change to a new set of learning standards for Delaware has met its share of criticism by residents who wanted to know why another change was needed and by whom.
Delaware continues to move forward to implement Common Core standards even as states such as New York, which originally supported the change, have begun to question it.
To help explain the process, the League of Women Voters of Sussex County and the Coastal Georgetown Chapter of the American Association of University Women held a forum Feb. 11 in Lewes featuring two downstate educators and a Delaware Department of Education official.
“Not only are we aware of widespread misunderstanding of the intent and nature of the common core standards, but we are also concerned that politicalization of the issue has led to dissemination of a good deal of misinformation,” said Jane Lord, president of the Sussex league. “Our public forum was an effort to avail residents of Sussex County of the facts and to offer them the opportunity to question educators who are directly involved in implementing the Common Core Standards.”
Attending the forum to explain Common Core Standards and answer questions were Michael Kelley, director of curriculum and instruction for the Cape Henlopen school district; Susan Bunting, superintendent of the Indian River school district; and Brian Touchette, assessment director for the Delaware Department of Education.
Moving Delaware to the Common Core Standards was approved by the state board of education, the Delaware State Education Association, state administrators and local school boards, who all signed approval for the program, said Bunting.
“We were the only state that had all districts and teachers' unions sign on to Race to the Top,” of which Common Core is part, said Touchette.
Race to the Top is the latest in a host of educational federal and state initiatives to improve education put forth over the years including Goals 2000, New Directions, No Child Left Behind and Vision 2015.
“We're doing this in the interest of getting better for our students,” said Kelley.
He said the standards will add more rigor to education. Students will concentrate on using key math concepts to solve real-world situations, read challenging material and write more in the classroom along all subject lines.
“We want all students to think through a problem and be able to write it,” he said.
The Department of Education's Touchette said the Delaware Comprehensive Assessment System used to test students statewide has produced only mediocre results in preparing students for college. The test gives a numerical rating 1-4 for student scores with 4 considered advanced. Of the students who earn a 4, Touchette said, only 60 percent are ready for college. This was established by comparing the DCAS scores of 10th-graders with their SAT scores the following year, he said. Using this comparison, a student who meets the standard with a 3 on the DCAS is not ready for college, he said.
Testing students statewide offers a way to evaluate schools to determine which ones are working, Touchette said.
It's also a way to evaluate teachers.
“It's our job to help teachers through these growing pains,” said Indian River's Bunting.
Tests results for the current DCAS tests are used in part for teachers' annual reviews. Students who fail to show improvement on the twice-yearly tests can reflect poorly on a teacher's evaluation.
Student results also are factored into administrators' evaluations, she said.
When the new Smarter Balanced tests are used next year, teacher evaluations will be linked to them, although state officials recently said no test scores will be held against teachers in the test's initial year.
In New York, legislators are considering a two-year moratorium on the use of Common Core test scores in teacher evaluations to allow more time for teachers to acquire and teach the new materials.
The New York teacher's union withdrew support for Common Core in January until new standards could be fully and properly implemented, evaluated and corrected before they are used to place and label students or used for teacher evaluations.