The United States, long considered a superpower, is losing that strength in a vital area of today’s global economy: human capital. Our teens are falling behind those in other countries in math, reading and other critical skills needed to compete, but more importantly to lead.
The only way to keep up or gain momentum is to have a common core of educational benchmarks that are universal, standardized and measurable. We must play on the same field as the rest of the world – and play as well, or better.
Much attention has been focused recently on student walkouts and parent protests of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC test. While this has created a great deal of controversy, questions and complaints, we should not lose focus of the bigger purpose behind the testing – to achieve educational excellence through tougher expectations that make our students more competitive and successful.
The Common Core State Standards initiative raises the bar to ensure that American students have the necessary knowledge and skills to succeed in our universities and to be competitive in our workplaces and our world. It establishes a consistent set of standards for students’ expected achievement in reading, writing, speaking, listening, language and math from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
While PARCC and Common Core are connected, they are not one in the same. Much concern has arisen over whether the test accurately measures student skills and how the results should be used in high school graduation determination and teacher evaluation.
But that consternation should not overshadow or diminish the original intent of Common Core, to provide a standard for students, teachers and parents to measure college and career readiness.
New Mexico’s higher education institutions have a keen interest in the Common Core standards because incoming freshmen must have the educational foundation needed to climb to the next level. Without this mastery, students will lack the critical skills to succeed, much less flourish in a challenging college environment.
In order to “test” whether the test is providing that key knowledge, nearly 200 faculty from two- and four-year colleges in PARCC states, including 20 from New Mexico, participated in a recent study. The purpose was to identify questions on the tests that students planning to enter postsecondary education should be able to answer correctly if they expect to succeed in first-year college courses.
This summer educators will use the results of the study to determine at what level a student is proficient and thus, ready to go on to higher education and into a career.
Our state’s universities have not yet decided exactly how these scores will be used in bridging a student’s performance level from high school into college. The scores are not a tool to determine admission, but may be used to decide if a student should take remedial classes or can be placed directly into credit-bearing courses.
If the universities work with their K-12 partners through the Common Core State Standards, we can reduce, and hopefully eliminate the need for remediation altogether.
As students are in the midst of taking the test, and much work remains to be done on defining its results and their use, we should not lose sight of the ultimate goal of Common Core. Our teens must be well versed in critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, creativity and innovation. To excel in these skills, they need to be proficient in the basic requirements of reading, writing and math.
So while the method of assessment may be up for scrutiny, the need to have an educational common core should not be. National standards are key to giving our students the tools to take on the world.
Also signed by New Mexico State University President Garrey Carruthers and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology President Daniel H. López.