Just last week, House Bill 1490 — a compromise on implementing Common Core education standards — was passed by both the Missouri House and Senate. It now awaits Gov. Jay Nixon’s signature, which will then give the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education permission to create committees, comprised of parents and school officials throughout the state and appointed by various state officials, which will evaluate Common Core, host several statewide meetings and create official Missouri Learning Standards.
The new standards will incorporate most, if not all, of the Common Core objectives and standards, which would be helpful for the districts across the state that have already started implementing Common Core over the last few years — including the Sedalia School District 200.
“I do think that House Bill 1490 is a good compromise. I do,” said Superintendent Brad Pollitt. “And I think it will allow Missouri to own whatever they come up with, and that’s important. And then we’ll have to make adjustments. I’m not anticipating those being big adjustments.”
Parents Raise Concerns Over Standards
While many, including officials in Sedalia 200, think HB 1490 is a good compromise, some parents are still finding issue with Common Core. Although the bill passed last week, a small group of Sedalia parents gathered Thursday to discuss their concerns about Common Core, which has been adopted by 45 states.
About 30 people attended Thursday’s meeting, hosted by Concerned Women for America. Several local officials were in attendance, including Sedalia City Councilmember Larry Stevenson, state Rep. Dean Dohrman, Assistant Superintendent Nancy Scott, Board of Education member Diana Nichols and Director of Curriculum and Assessment Carla Wheeler.
Guest speaker Jill Noble, the Kansas City area director of CWA, led the meeting, giving an almost two and a half hour presentation about the problems with Common Core. She began the meeting by defining Common Core for those in attendance with a simple phrase: “Common Core is an attempt to indoctrinate your children while dumbing them down.”
Concerns ranged from the involvement of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private entities, to suggested reading lists to assessment questions. During the presentation Noble even stated, “standards are just standards. I’m mostly concerned with the tests.”
That piece is the one part some school officials, including Pollitt, can agree on with concerned parents.
“The assessment piece is different than the Common Core objectives,” Pollitt said. “How those objectives are assessed is not only a concern of some parents, it’s a concern of us as well. We’re concerned about how those are going to be assessed, what test questions are going to be used. Once DESE’s committee meets and those committees decide what the Missouri Learning Standards are and how are they going to be assessed is everyone’s concern in rural Missouri. We can probably all be on the same page with that.”
Looking at the ‘Big Picture’
Although assessments are the biggest concern about Common Core, Sedalia 200 officials are pleased with this year’s initial test scores.
“This year’s assessment was not a Common Core assessment although what was taught was Common Core-based. And our initial scores are pretty good,” Pollitt said. “We haven’t gotten elementary but we’re getting our EOC back, our Terra Nova, and so far we feel pretty good about our scores.”
For parent Kim Tanner, who attended Thursday’s meeting, she said she’s most concerned about where the educational system is going, especially now that Common Core is being brought into schools.
“My main concern is taking into consideration the big picture, where the educational reform is aimed at going,” Tanner said. “I’ve independently read these documents that (Noble) gives and they are concerning as a whole on the national level of the educational reform. I’m ashamed that as a parent we got to 2014 before I was even awakened to Common Core, and I don’t want to get further along and say ‘How do we get out?’ and we can’t.”
She noted that officials in Sedalia 200 are “good-hearted, good-intended administrators and educators. And I don’t think the problem is at our local level.” She said she and other concerned parents want state-written standards, not national standards adopted by each state.
Certificates of Initial Mastery
The issue of Certificates of Initial Mastery was also brought up during the meeting, which is part of outcome-based education reform. Many schools across the country are now requiring students to gain a CIM, and Noble told those in attendance that many businesses, including some in Sedalia, now require CIM to hire someone, and even gave an example from a meeting in another town: a woman told Noble her husband’s company required everyone to reapply for their jobs and to apply for a CIM, but the idea that businesses require CIM just isn’t true.
A CIM is a skills-based test, which tells a student where their strengths lie, giving them a better idea of which jobs they would be best suited for, and it can be given to potential employers to show their qualifications and skills. Many businesses request this document as a supplement to an application and interview, but do not require it.
‘Curriculum is never done.’
Sedalia 200 is among many Missouri districts that has begun to implement Common Core over the last few years, and Pollitt said so far he’s received positive comments from teachers. The district has heard plenty of complaints and concerns regarding Common Core, but Pollitt assured parents the district has done its homework.
“This isn’t the school district against groups of parents, it’s not that way at all,” Pollitt said. “We’ve looked at the objectives and we don’t believe they’re watered down, we believe they’re more rigorous. Our goal is to have students graduate that are college and career ready and don’t have to take remedial classes when they go to college. That’s our goal. … And we also want to see a greater correlation between student grades and ACT scores. … A student that gets an A or a B in a math class or English class we would like to see that correlate to what their ACT score is. And sometimes that doesn’t happen with our Grade Level Expectations.”
Wheeler agreed with Pollitt that implementation has gone well so far, and that a lot of Professional Development was dedicated to aligning the curriculum with Common Core. She also noted that curriculum is always evolving, so no matter what standards are in place, the district is always working to improve.
“It’s locally written curriculum, our teachers decided what’s the best to teach to students and the best ways they can assess that. Those were not handed to us by anybody, we created those,” Wheeler said. “Just like with the MAP test you take it a time or two and they give you the reports and from those you see what are we doing well, what are we not doing well on, and we use those to guide instruction and maybe look at places what we can do to allow us to be more successful on those.
“Curriculum is never done. It’s always an evolving process of looking at how are we doing, what can we do to get better. It wouldn’t matter if it was GLES, Common Core, it doesn’t matter what it is, that’s what you do because you want kids to be successful.”