By What Standards?

David Coleman, President of the College Board, has announced that the class of 2016 will see some changes to their Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). While I believe the SAT is long overdue for some changes, I find it interesting that the SAT will join the American College Testing (ACT) in aligning themselves with the Common Core Standards. I guess I should not be surprised since Mr. Coleman was one of primary designers of the Common Core. Like it or not, this move makes the Common Core something worthy of our attention.

By way of some background information, we need to remember that education standards are the responsibility of each state. Fifty states plus the District of Columbia means fifty-one different discussions on what defines competency within a grade or discipline. During the 1990s, education moved to more discussions on standards. By 2009, the Common Core was born out of state governors and their education specialists recognizing that the discussion on standards could be strengthened if they worked together--a noble idea that had the potential of elevating the impact of education on our nation’s children.

It should be no surprise that the discussions on the Common Core were derailed. California and Texas control the textbook market, but they operate on opposite ends of the political spectrum. Implementation proved more of a challenge with fifty-one ways of funding education, fifty-one teacher groups involved in the mix, and fifty-one governors flexing their political muscle. On top of this, we have the College Board and ACT acting as the gatekeepers to college admissions. Their tests and their standards for Advanced Placement (AP) Tests were used to determine who was getting into what college and with how many credits. Growing dissatisfaction with the tests being accurate predictors of success began to surface a few years ago. Over eight hundred colleges are no longer requiring the SAT or ACT as part of their admissions process. Colleges are also expressing concerns as to how poorly students with AP credits were prepared for college level courses. Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school in the Northeast, announced it would no longer accept AP courses for credit. Do we really need more reasons why education in the United States is in trouble?

Shoreline Christian School stays above this fracas by staying true to our Mission Statement:

Shoreline Christian School works in partnership with Christian families and their church to challenge students in preschool through high school: To celebrate that all of creation belongs to God To respond to God by developing their unique gifts and abilities To live as dynamic and transforming influences for the glory of God.

We are in a partnership that is focussed on the child. Our role is to defined by four questions:

  • What do we want students to learn? With so much confusion over what standards to use, this question gets to the heart of the matter. At our school, we pull from a myriad of resources, the skills of our teachers, and the expectations of our community. Our curriculum maps are linked to Christian schools across the nation so that we can compare and contrast. We have access to the college admission offices, to the Common Core, to the SAT, to the ACT, to the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), and to national organizations that represent the disciplines we teach. No single text book publisher or imposed state standards will dictate what our students will learn.
  • How will we know what and how well students are learning? Again, no single source offers a completed picture. Assessment of student learning needs to be both process (formative) and completion (summative) oriented. Portfolios, test quizzes, papers, projects, presentations, and the list goes on. We offer access to SAT, ACT, PSAT, PLAN, and ITBS. When the data is collected, we listen to the students to validate the accuracy of the data we collected. Finally, we ask the graduates and parents tell us their stories about how well the students are learning.
  • How do we engage students in relevant learning? We need to ask ourselves constantly, why do we need them to learn this stuff? Where does this learning fit in a plan? If it is just the next page in the textbook, we are not doing our jobs. The answer must be reflected in our curriculum maps. The learning must have purpose and compliment the overall plan for learning. When it is all said and done, I take a graduate out for lunch and ask him or her the same question.
  • How will we respond when some students learn quickly or don’t learn well? The size of our school, the dedication of the staff, and the support of our parents allows us to make adjustments. Curriculum is only a plan and plans have to change to reflect the standards they seek to attain. We learn what works, and we adjust to replicate the results. When learning does not happen the way we plan, we adjust according to what we learn. The best teachers at SCS are the best learners. The more we learn about what works and what doesn’t work, the better we can work with our impact our student learners.

Watson Groen/Shoreline Christian has stayed above the confusion and stayed focused on the learner created in the image of God. Elements like the Common Core and the alphabet soup of tests are akin to the lenses that help sharpen the discussion, but the lenses do not define the image. For sixty-plus years, this focus has been tested and proven by the graduates and the stories they tell of how they were equipped “To live as a dynamic and transforming influence for the glory of God.”