Concern about additional testing prompts board to seek more input from staff
The ongoing debate over Common Core standards in public education has prompted the Grafton School Board to take a second look at how additional testing is impacting classroom instruction.
The board on Monday asked Supt. Mel Lightner to get input from district principals and other staff members on the use of Common Core standards in curriculum and in Smarter Balanced assessments that will replace Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examinations this fall.
“I think we have to assess these assessments to see what effect they have on our teaching and learning,” Lightner told the board.
Established as an education initiative in 2010 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School officers, Common Core is designed to help ensure consistent academic standards in public schools.
During the past few months, Common Core’s impact has sparked protests and fueled heated discussions across the country. Although more than 40 states and the District of Columbia are members of the Common Core Standards Initiative, many critics argue that the tests will result in lower scores for students and impair teaching.
Lightner said the Grafton School District has used Common Core standards as a guide to select and write curriculum. In addition to aligning Stepping Stones math resources with those standards, the district has revised its English language arts curriculum using Common Core.
“I read articles on Common Core every day, and believe me, it is very difficult to separate facts from opinion,” Lightner said.
“There are differing opinions on what it is and what it does. It’s become a hot issue, and it’s been influenced by politics.”
Grafton hasn’t formally adopted Common Core standards but uses them when it can help raise achievement standards, Lightner noted.
“We don’t wave the flag of Common Core,” he said.
“We need to have content-driven curriculum, and Common Core is a guide for that.”
Of greater concern, Lightner told the board, is an increased number of student assessments mandated by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
“I personally think we overtest,” he said.
Grafton High School Principal Ken McCormick said Smarter Balanced tests will require 4-1/2 hours spread over two days. Among other high school tests, juniors are now required to take ACT exams, which will require another five hours, he added.
Board member Paul Lorge suggested the district go on record opposing additional testing. However, Lightner said he first wants input from staff members and will then present his findings to the board next month.
“Common Core has become such a polarizing issue, but I look at it as not that important in a district like ours that has already raised the achievement bar higher,” Board President Terry Ziegler said.
“We’re going to keep teaching kids in the classroom and exceed the standards in Common Core.”
Lightner said a number of parents have asked if they can have their children opt out of state-mandated assessments. State law, he noted, states the request must be honored for students in grades four, eight and nine through 12, but requests at other grade levels
must be submitted in writing and require School Board approval.
Students will not be penalized for opting out of assessments, but annual DPI evaluations of districts will make note of “not tested” students, Lightner said.