High Standards Mean High Expectations for Students and Teachers

A new blog posting and video on Yellowhammer News argues that a lack of Common Core “training” for Alabama’s teachers is the reason why students are “struggling to adapt” to the new curriculum.  It also implies that an increased number of student tutors are needed because Alabama students can’t grasp the new material.

We recognize that states have an obligation to step up and support their teachers and administrators as they help students learn to higher standards. However, that should not be a reason to suggest that Alabama’s commitment to high standards is shortchanging students. Yellowhammer News ignores the success that states are having by setting expectations to levels that better prepare students for college and careers.

It’s important to remember that this will only be the third consecutive year that most states are administering assessments aligned to higher standards.  The good news is that in a majority of states that administered the assessments last year, students made improvements in math and English language arts proficiency.  Some of the biggest gains were by third-grade students, who have spent the entirety of their academic careers learning to meet higher standards.

These initial successes should not be taken lightly. “It’s now clear that [higher] standards have made an impact,” Collaborative for Student Success Executive Director Jim Cowen pointed out last year. “More than 40 states have maintained high standards, and now that we have multiple years of results with high-quality assessments, we can see that higher standards are leading to improved outcomes,” Cowen added.

To Yellowhammer’s notion that Alabama’s teachers haven’t received enough training there’s reason for pause.  Admittedly, the transition to higher standards for educators, has not been perfect; nothing of this magnitude is. A recent RAND study found only 28 percent of math and 31 percent of ELA teachers believe professional development opportunities reflect their needs. As one educator put it, “teachers are hungry” for professional development support.

Teachers are calling for high standards, and they need the resources to support them.   States’ new “emphasis on conceptual understanding marked a huge departure from the old ‘mile-wide, inch-deep’ way of teaching,” three Arizona Teachers of the Year wrote recently. “And those kinds of changes are only effectively achieved through proper support and training.”

We maintain that states must step up their support to teachers and administrators as they help students learn to higher levels. Fortunately, they have partners in education advocacy groups, who have begun to provide resources for parents and teachers alike to better support student learning.

Learning Heroes and others now offer a wealth of tools and resources to help kids achieve to the high expectations that have been set for them. At the same time, schools have begun to bring parents into the fold through “math nights” and outreach efforts to help them better understand the changes happening in their classrooms.

There is no question that states and schools must continue to improve their supports to teachers and ensure materials align with their standards. As a local Alabama grandfather noted, those decisions are and should be made close to home.

The implementation of high, comparable standards has not always been easy, but as a local Mississippi teacher wrote this past week, “we use these standards because of a passionate belief: that all of our kids can rise to the challenge of meeting the standards, and if they do, they’ll be on the path to the success that they so deserve.”