We hardly had a chance to celebrate our students’ performance on the 2013 MCAS exams – in case you haven’t heard, CCSC 10th graders earned a #1 ranking in English for the second straight year – when the Boston Globe ran a front-page article with the headline, “Online exams may replace MCAS tests.”
As the story explained, the new online tests will be piloted this year and next as part the state’s adoption of the Common Core State Standards.
If you haven’t heard of the Common Core, don’t worry; you’re not alone. Recently it was reported that 55% of public school parents aren’t aware of the Common Core – the new national standards that 45 states have committed to adopting by 2015 as part of President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. All public schools in those states including Massachusetts will align their curriculum to the Common Core standards in order to qualify for federal education grants. The new standards are intended to make American students more competitive in the 21st century global economy.
Regardless of your level of familiarity with the Common Core, you now may be wondering how the new tests and standards will affect students at CCSC. Not very much, according to Becky Wilusz, CCSC Dean of Curriculum and Program.
“The Common Core won’t require drastic changes in what we teach, or the way we teach,” says Ms. Wilusz. “Our faculty has been working together for the past two years to align our academic program to the Common Core. Honestly, aligning our instruction has meant somewhat minor changes because we were already doing most of what the Common Core requires: our students are already reading complex texts and we have added more nonfiction; we are already teaching some literacy skills across disciplines and we are prepared to expand our work here; and our end-of-the-year Roundtable presentations are a great example of performance-based assessments. In addition, Massachusetts already has some of the most rigorous state standards in the country, so we are building off a solid platform.”
There are still some unknowns around the state’s new “PARCC” assessments, which will be field-tested in some schools over the next two years. But Ms. Wilusz stresses that CCSC teachers will have time to analyze the new tests and our students’ performance before the PARCC tests become a graduation requirement for the Class of 2018 (this year’s 8th graders).
“With our strong emphasis on college prep and real-world applications for what we teach, we are confident that CCSC students will be well prepared to perform as well, or better, on the PARCC as they have on the MCAS,” Ms. Wilusz says.
In the meantime, if you are curious to learn more about the Common Core, you can read summaries of the learning goals at each level (K-8 and high school) provided by the National PTA organization. And don’t wave a fond farewell to the MCAS just yet; students in the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th grades will be taking the MCAS this spring, as usual.