The following op-ed appeared in the New York Post on August 7, 2013.
This week is a watershed moment in the history of public schools in New York City and state. This morning, the state will release the results of the math and English exams administered to students this past spring. While end-of-year testing isn’t new, the knowledge that was tested last spring is. For the first time, students across the state were assessed based on the new, more rigorous Common Core standards.
For years, states around the country dummied-down standards to make it look as if students were more prepared for success after graduation than they actually were. This may have made some politicians look good, but it has been a terrible disservice to our kids.
Raising standards will mean we now have a more true measure of how well our students are learning. In the near term, it will also mean that previously inflated test scores will drop.
While some may confuse lower scores as a negative development, the fact that we’re finally being honest about academic achievement is a very positive sign.
For decades, states and local school districts have been responsible for their own education standards; the quality varied widely. A student deemed highly successful in one state could fail in another. The lack of uniform expectations didn’t do our students any favors. In fact, it doomed many to mediocrity.
Anyone who cares about giving all students a fair chance to succeed must be troubled by a terrible truth: The majority of America’s high school students aren’t graduating with the knowledge and skills they need to compete in the global economy. Only 30 percent are prepared for college and careers, according to the US Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) — also known as the nation’s report card.
Worse yet, American students have fallen well behind their peers around the world, an alarming shortfall in a time of global competition.
The Common Core Standards, adopted by New York State in 2009, represent the first meaningful grade-by-grade road map to college and career readiness. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have chosen to adopt the standards, and for good reason. The Common Core’s focus is on academic rigor.
The lessons require students to read complex texts and master demanding mathematical concepts, while also emphasizing critical thinking and analytical writing. The tests that complement them are a lot harder than the old basic proficiency tests. That is by design.
Common Core has the power and potential to move American education into the 21st-century. New York State and New York City have been leading the nation in implementing these standards, and haven’t let critical headlines stop them from forging ahead. I expect the point to be driven home by today’s test-score release. The scores to tell us what we already know, and what NAEP has told us for decades: that only about 30 percent of our students are ready for college and careers.
Kentucky has already taken new, Common Core-aligned state assessments and has seen its scores drop as much as 33 points or 50 percent. New York leaders have said repeatedly that they expect similar results here.
This may be hard to stomach at first, but we must see it for what it is: a necessary hardship on the path to academic excellence. As a parent, I’d much rather find out that my child has fallen behind in third or fifth grade, when there’s still time to intervene, than when she gets to college and can’t do the work.
I encourage the public, and especially candidates for political office, to keep the test results in perspective. As teachers continue to strengthen their instruction and shift to the Common Core, we’ll experience short-term pain that can pave the way to long-term gains, and unprecedented opportunities for our children.
People may not like what they hear, but it’s not news any of us can afford to ignore.
While some may use lower test results to score political points and argue that we should abandon higher standards, this would do our kids a grave injustice. Preparing our students for success in the global economy will take a commitment from all of us — teachers, parents, students and elected officials — to hold our education system and ourselves to a higher standard. Thanks to the Common Core, we can finally start doing that.
Joel Klein, the former city schools chancellor, oversees the News Corp venture Amplify, which creates digital products and services for teachers, students, and parents. News Corp is the parent company of The Post.