As the Common Core State Standards are rolled out across America, CCSS opponents such as Diane Ravitch, decry the profits publishers are making selling “Common Core aligned” material, which often is nothing more than their old materials with a CCSS reference number slapped on them.
As troubling at that practice is, I am at least as disturbed by educators who putting a CCSS reference number on their materials and saying their curriculum and their assessments align with the Common Core.
Sample student learning outcomes posted to www.engageny.org, a website developed and maintained by the New York State Education Department, demonstrate just how serious the problem is.
The sample learning outcomes appear to have been developed by teachers. Each SLO includes information about the number and educational characteristics of students enrolled in the class, such as their ages/grade level, whether they had IEPs or were English Language Learners.
One SLO I examined is for a Computer Applications course. As you will see, the outcomes the teacher wrote (the author is not identified) do not specify what computer applications the students will study. That gap apparently did not bother the state education staff, but it bothers me.
Objectives for student learning
The Computer Applications course uses objectives borrowed from three sources, two of which are publicly accessible.
National Business Applications Standards
As a business owner, I hope the National Business Education Association’s standards include some instruction in
- word processing
- Internet research
- basic HTML coding
- presentation/multi-media software
However, without paying a hefty price ($90 for the standards plus $9 shipping), the only way I or another member of the public has of figuring out what specific applications are taught in the computer course is to analyze the teacher’s description of the course assessments.
The teacher writes that the Computer Applications course “assessment is based upon keyboarding skills, multiple choice questions, and short answer section (error analysis).” The only application that suggests to me is word processing.
New York State’s Career Development and Occupational Studies objectives used for the Computer Applications course include what the layperson would refer to as:
- applying classroom knowledge in the workplace
- “soft skills” and/or “employability skills”
The state education department provides a downloadable PDF that shows both standards and suggested assessments for the standards, which are remarkably hands-on and realistic.
These suggested assessments were not used with the sample teacher’s curriculum.
Common Core State Standards
The teacher aligned the Computer Applications course to eight English language arts standards for writing, reading, and speaking. This list gives the gist of the standard the teacher cited. Use the link to get the CCSS wording.
- CCRW4: Produce clear, coherent, appropriate writing
- CCRW6: Use technology to write and collaborate.
- CCRW10: Write long and short pieces regularly.
- WHST5: Plan, revise, and edit writing.
- WHST6: Use technology to keep written information current.
- CCRL1: Use standard grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
- CCRL2: Follow standard edited English conventions.
- CCRL6: Continually expand vocabulary.
Remember the teachers’ description of the assessment instruments? It said, “Assessment is based upon keyboarding skills, multiple choice questions, and short answer section (error analysis).”
Do you think multiple choice questions are likely to show how whether students write long and short documents regularly?
Is a multiple choice question likely to show how well students use technology to write collaboratively?
Will an error analysis show whether students are regularly expanding their vocabulary?
I don’t think multiple choice items are likely to be good ways of assessing those kinds of learning.
The central problem
The teacher who prepared this material has made a real effort to do what she or he thought needed to be done. But her/his understanding of teaching to a set of standards is flawed.
While every teacher in a Common Core school is supposed to pitch in with helping students master the ELA and math objectives, each teacher is supposed to look for logical connections between what they teach and the Core.
Finding those logical connections between Core and course curriculum is easier if teachers work with the specific year-by-year standards rather than with the CCR standards for K-12.
Teaching to the standards
Students need to learn computer applications so they can do things such as:
- Write documents
- Gather data through online search, surveys, etc.
- Collaborate on work tasks with people who are in different locations.
- Record numerical information
- Analyze information
- Produce and distribute multimedia information to various audiences.
The computer teacher can teach any of those skills and show their applicability to the Common Core using the year-by-year ELA and math standards.
The teacher can also use skills required in the core, such as writing and math, in computer class tasks. For example, having students use software to graph their keyboarding progress would provide a logical link between the Common Core standards and the computer course itself.
I feel sorry for teachers who want to teach well but are left to figure it out without help from anyone with experience teaching to standards.
They deserve better treatment.