How Standards Help Students Compete Globally
By Ken Abramczyk and Larry Anderson
Common Core standards help to ensure that students in the United States are proficient in language arts and mathematics. But what exactly is Common Core, and how is it impacting Georgia students’ educational journey? Georgia is one of 42 states that have embraced the initiative, although some aspects in Georgia have changed, and the standards have a new name.
Common Core: The Basics
Common Core Standards are a single set of academic expectations of students at each grade level in English/language arts and math. The standards are basically descriptions of needed skills. They do not include a specified, day-to-day curriculum. Rather, they are a broad outline of expectations from which a curriculum can be created.
The recent history of education standards began when the 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” warned of a “rising tide of mediocrity” in education and led many states to create their own set of education standards.
However, standards varied widely from state to state, with some states setting the bar higher than others. Governors and state school officers decided to tackle the task of developing nationwide standards and launched Common Core State Standards in 2009. Most states adopted the standards, including Georgia in the fall of 2012.
Among the elements of the English/language arts standard are more emphasis on non-fiction reading versus literature and a focus on increasing students’ ability to read complex texts. It also calls on teachers of other disciplines to teach literacy skills related to those disciplines. The math standard prioritizes a deeper focus on fewer topics.
Nationwide, the standards have become a lightning rod for controversy. Some say the national standards are another form of federal government overreach (although the standards were developed by the states.)
Incorporating Local Feedback
In 2015, the Georgia State Board of Education made minor changes to the Common Core language arts and math standards, with most of the revisions in math, clarifying language and sequence. Those changes were completed after incorporating local feedback. Surveys were conducted, the legislative and state boards held listening sessions, and there was a 60-day period of public input.
The state board then voted in February 2015 to rename the standards the Georgia Standards of Excellence (GSE). The board approved new standards in science in March 2016 and social studies in June 2016.
In Georgia, state education leaders are quick to point out that standards are developed in Georgia by the state’s own teachers, curriculum leaders, post-secondary educators, and the business community with input from parents and the public.
The approach by the Georgia Department of Education to develop the GSE is summed up best by Richard Woods, Georgia’s school superintendent: “We want to provide a holistic education, so that Georgia’s children graduate ready to learn, ready to live, and ready to lead.”
The standards set challenging instructional goals and support more personalized learning in meeting the diverse educational needs of all students.
“Georgia Standards of Excellence provide consistency across the state to ensure equitable access to quality standards for a quality education,” says Pam Smith, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Those standards are personalized for all students, incorporating technology and providing a hands-on, student-centered, and inquiry-based instructional program.
The state board adopts content area standards, but each local school district may expand and enrich content standards. The Georgia DOE provides instructional resources, but decisions regarding strategies and resources are left to local school districts. State laws governing textbook adoption were changed in 2016 so that local districts decide. The DOE is considering how to support districts in program evaluation without being part of the formal process of adopting and evaluating them.
Reviews of the standards are conducted every four years to determine revisions based on teacher and education stakeholder feedback.
The Independent School Approach
Private schools are not subject to Common Core or Georgia’s state educational standards. However, private school students face the same SAT/ACT tests as public school students when they seek to get into college. These and other standardized tests are aligned with Common Core State Standards, so even private schools are needing to adapt.
Dr. Jeff Jackson, president of the Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA), which consists of 160 private, independent and parochial schools with 75,000 students, says that independent schools are “highly student-centered to what the individual needs.”
Jackson says Georgia independent schools use the SAT scores and college placement as barometers of scholastic success. “Generally, we do very well with our college placements,” Jackson says. Each member school is fully accredited by at least one of the nationally recognized regional accreditation organizations.
Applying Standards to Student Needs
Standards like Common Core are one element to guide students to achieve education success. Georgia has incorporated Common Core concepts into the Georgia Standards of Excellence at the state and local level to improve student achievement. The aim is to address the individual needs of each student with an eye toward achieving higher educational standards that equip more students to compete and succeed in a changing world.
For More Information:
• Review Georgia’s educational standards and sample instructional resources at georgiastandards.org
• Learn more about the Common Core State Standards initiative at corestandards.org
• Information on accreditation of private schools in Georgia is available at gapsac.org