Common Core backers: Standards are appropriate, flexible

Posted July 24, 2014

Since the beginning of this year, many legislators and critics have dubbed Common Core "developmentally inappropriate."

They argue that the new Math and English standards should be repealed because they are not suitable for some students.

"I know there is some age and grade inappropriateness,” said Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman at a legislative meeting earlier this year. “I’ve talked with teachers.”

Lawmakers, in particular, rarely elaborate on how exactly they're inappropriate, only to say that the standards are confusing and frustrating to teachers, students and parents.

Concerns from early education experts

Many content and child development experts express concerns with the Common Core standards, but they don’t cast them off entirely as flawed. They point to specific standards, especially in kindergarten and first-grade.

“You wouldn’t want to require children to count to 100, which is what one of the standards does, it’s actually ridiculous,” says Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an early education expert at Lesley University.

Paige says she considers a kindergarten math standard requiring children to count to 100 by ones and tens to be developmentally inappropriate.

“Counting is something you could memorize. You could just say names, right? But it doesn’t mean you understand numbers,” she says.

Paige argues that some of the standards in the early grades are just too rigid.

“You could say almost silly in the sense that they’re de-contextualized from children and even from understanding child development.”

Without that understanding, she says kids are expected to know things they simply aren’t ready for, which can make them feel “confused, scared or stupid.”

Sam Meisels, a childhood development expert at the University of Nebraska, describes those same scenarios. He has a problem with a kindergarten standard that requires students to read and understand emergent texts.

“It’s unrealistic to have an expectation about young children – all young children – being able to read,” he says.

Meisels points out that most third and fourth graders are even struggling to read.

He says it’s not fair to reject Common Core standards by simply saying they’re developmentally inappropriate. Some standards are laudable as aspirational goals, he explains, but that doesn’t mean they’re all reasonable.

“My problem is that these standards, which are meant to be benchmarks, which are meant to inform us on what children can learn, can be made into thresholds,” he says.

In other words, if students don’t meet those thresholds, then they’re considered to be failing.

‘The standards are quite definitely developmentally appropriate’

A few experts argue that the standards introduce too much too quickly for younger students, and then later slow down in the older grades, particularly in math. But there are many researchers who completely disagree with that characterization and that well-worn phrase "developmentally inappropriate."

“I would say the standards are quite definitely developmentally appropriate,” says Jere Confrey, a math education professor at N.C. State.

Confrey helped work on the Common Core standards and validated them along with a small group of experts across the nation. She says they made sure the standards are internationally competitive.

“If someone is saying that these standards are not developmentally appropriate… Well, kids all around the world in other high-performing countries are able to learn these ideas, so are people suggesting that our kids in the United States are dumber?” she says.

She also denounces claims about the early math standards being too rigid, explaining that teachers should look at them in the context of other standards and real-world models.

“Suppose I asked you what 11+2 is, what would you say? Well, suppose I told you I was talking about meeting two hours after 11 a.m., what time would we meet? The context that you do mathematics in matters.”

Confrey says it’s also not fair to criticize the kindergarten standard requiring students to count to 100 without looking to related standards, such as one that encourages students to understand place value.

She argues the standards are carefully crafted and organized, but also admits they’re not perfect

“These standards are adaptable, they can be changed,” she says. “As we developed them, we knew that. And, so, the question is does it merit throwing all of them out or do you go to work on checking, based on real data, expert knowledge and teachers experience, and adjust them appropriately as you need to?”

Confrey says implementing the standards takes time and is a work in progress. She argues that phrases like "developmentally inappropriate" have become empty slogans in a political campaign to get rid of Common Core.

This week, Governor Pat McCrory signed a bill intended to review and rework Common Core. But it’s still unclear if North Carolina will dramatically transform the Math and English goals or decide to only tweak some aspects of the standards.

Either way, any changes in the standards will mean changes in the classroom – not to mention more time and resources. Since 2010, North Carolina has invested tens of millions of dollars into rolling out Common Core.

This report first appeared on WUNC/North Carolina Public Radio as part of their education coverage.

Reema Khrais is the 2014 Fletcher Fellow focused on Education Policy Reporting. The Fletcher Fellowship is a partnership between WUNC and UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication funded in part by the Fletcher Foundation.


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  • Danny22 Jul 24, 2014

    The largest problem with Common Core is that it is federal control.

  • SaveEnergyMan Jul 24, 2014

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    "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink" Same goes for education. It's not the kids fault or the teacher's fault - it's the parents fault for not installing the values of education and making sure they are doing their work. Ask any teacher - the biggest predictor of student performance is parents.

    If the rest of the industrialized world is learning this, then why aren't we?

    Oh, and why two ways to learn something? Because you never know when you will need a second way to do it to check your work or to get an answer in the first place. Do it all the time.

  • Tracy Watson Jul 24, 2014
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    Did you read the article? What is appropriate for one student is not appropriate for can't have an across the board way of teaching children you must be flexible. You're not a teacher obviously...and with that attitude and approach I hope that you also don't have children.

  • iopsyc Jul 24, 2014

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    You're mistaken regarding testing accommodations and Common Core. This past year saw no significant changes in testing accommodations (since NCDPI created the tests). It is possible that a handful of accommodations would no longer be allowed if the state used tests developed by a third party. I suggest you speak with your child's IEP coordinator for further clarification.

  • qrbyrd Jul 24, 2014

    Under common core my son was taught one thing in math and science and given something totally different on the test at the end of the year. He said nothing he had learned was on the test. They had to give a 62 point curve just for them to pass. It wasn't the students fault nor the teachers. The teachers taught what they were given to teach but the test were different. The test scores reflected the kids knew the test material but they didn't. My younger son who has autism was taught math one way one week then the following week they tried to teach him the same math but a different way. When I complained they said under common core he had to be taught like the regular ed students. Why do they need to learn the same math 2 different ways? The way I understand kids with special needs will no longer have special accomodation's when testing they will be required to test as a regular ed kid if common core stays in place. I am praying it goes away as quick as possible.

  • Nan Toppin Jul 24, 2014
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    I don't think we expect enough of kids today. I volunteer in my daughter's class weekly and I see many children who simply do not try, do not do their work, and just sit there. We live in a country where every child has the right to an education but they don't appreciate it. I don't know enough about Common Core to even enter into the debate...I need to learn more about it. But generally speaking, the work my kids are doing is not challenging enough. I think it's very reasonable to expect a child to count to 100 by the end of kindergarten. And I certainly don't expect most 3rd and 4th graders to be struggling to read. If a child has special needs, that's a different story...we need to stop dumbing down public education.

  • Terry Watts Jul 24, 2014
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    "Developmentally inappropriate" is just code for "lowering the Standard to the lowest common denominator".

    I have no issue with the Core being "developmentally inappropriate" for those kids that perhaps shouldn't pass and should have retake a grade level...