Over the past 15 years, the drive to reform education in Washington state by imposing higher standards and then measuring those standards with proficiency tests has resulted in more acronyms than a can of Campbell’s alphabet soup would yield.
It started with the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning), which was touted as the answer. But when the scores came back, there was disappointment so changes were made. Then more changes.
When the WASL wore out its welcome, Washingtonians were introduced to the MSP (Measurements of Student Progress) exams and the HSPE (High School Proficiency Exams). The MSP is given to students in third- through eighth-grade and the HSPE is the test students must pass to graduate from high school.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn wasn’t comfortable with the direction the MSP and HSPE were taking education, so he adopted a new set of tests tied to the Common Core Standards. Those are expected to kick in next school year.
Common Core, according to the state Office of Public Instruction website, “is a real-world approach to learning and teaching. Developed by education experts from 45 states, these K-12 learning standards go deeper into key concepts in math and English language arts. The standards require a practical, real-life application of knowledge that prepares Washington students for success in college, work and life.”
That sounds fantastic. Then again, the previous approaches sounded wonderful too.
And, like the previous standards, critics are taking aim even before the new program has been implemented. The fight is under way in Olympia to fund the Common Core Standards to a level that it — and, more importantly, students — would be successful.
Hmmm. Here we go again, once again.
Putting high standards in place for students and then finding a way to accurately and fairly test students’ knowledge is an incredibly challenging endeavor, particularly when failing students or holding them back a year in school are not socially acceptable. Sure, it happens, but it doesn’t happen often.
Adding to the difficulty, the public is losing interest in education reform. Olympia has cried wolf too many times.
And educators, having been whipsawed by the political right and left, are frustrated and cynical. Who can blame them?
The state better get it right soon, the window of opportunity is closing.
The Common Core approach has the potential to be the answer legislators and administrators have been searching for since the 1990s.
Officials need to find a way to make Common Core work (or find something else ASAP) and then stick with it.
Changing directions every few years is a route to disaster.