Germantown’s rejection of Common Core hasn’t weakened West Bend’s commitment to the controversial standards
By Lauren Sorensen, Current Staff
As a nearby school board makes waves for abandoning the Common Core standards, West Bend’s top academic administrator says those conversations will not affect the West Bend School District.
The Germantown school district is currently working towards creating their own curriculum without the guidelines set forth by Common Core. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were adopted by Wisconsin in 2010 as a way to create an outline by which schools could be held accountable in English and math skills. These standards create a basic format for the curriculum that the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction sees as what should be taught.
Al Pauli, West Bend’s chief academic officer, is aware of the current discussions occurring in Germantown regarding the CCSS, but has no plans to change West Bend’s commitment to Common Core and the associated standardized testing. Pauli is in charge of learning-related policies for the district.
“For us, the Common Core Standards are kind of like the floor. They are not the ceiling of what we would like our kids to be able to leave with,” Pauli said. Pauli also stated that because students move from district to district, state to state, having 41 states with the same standards is “not necessarily bad.”
“These standards are better than the ones we had,” Pauli said. But Pauli also said they are not perfect. Pauli said that the Smarter Balance Test (a standardized test for CCSS) will measure the “effectiveness of the delivery of instruction.”
“These standards are better than the ones we had.”
– Al Pauli, Chief Academic Officer
Individualized instruction is also being considered. “I think it’s the future of education,” Pauli said. Pauli said the high school has moved toward individualized learning by offering honors and AP classes in addition to the variety of classes offered.
Pauli said that Germantown’s current discussion will not affect the West Bend School District, but noted that “those same conversations are going on at the state level. That is what will impact West Bend.”
At least two members of the Germantown School Board don’t share Pauli’s view of Common Core.
“Students aren’t common, so why should we hold them to ‘common’ standards?,” Germantown board member Bruce Warnimont said in a board meeting on November 12.
“We want to change Germantown from the ‘one size fits all’ approach,” said Brian Medved, board member and head of the standards committee, in an interview with The Current.
During the November 12 meeting, the amount of testing that the Common Core model includes was a clear concern. “Children aren’t allowed to be children anymore,” Warnimont said. Warnimont even went as far as to call the amount of testing “inhuman.”
Senator Alberta Darling was in attendance, in order to discuss what is being done in the state legislature regarding the CCSS. Repeatedly, Darling assured that the senators are “doing what [they] can.” Board members continued to ask what they can do in order to work around state statutes. “I don’t have a lot of answers right now,” Darling said. However, Darling also urged the school board to continue on in their efforts. “I applaud your efforts,” Darling said repeatedly.
Germantown created an online survey at the end of the 2013-2014 school year to obtain parent feedback. The results of this survey were presented during the meeting. One question asked if “teaching to the test” is a good thing. Overwhelmingly, the results showed that parents strongly disagreed with this statement. Another question asked was if “teachers should use other assessments [other than standardized testing].” Parents strongly agreed with that statement.
“Common Core is designed to teach students ‘what to think’ not ‘how to think for themselves,'” Medved said in an interview. Current discussion within the educational community includes what truly must be valued, a student’s ability to regurgitate information or to develop their own unique perspective on the world.
Another hurdle for Germantown comes in the form of the State Report cards. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issues report cards for school districts in order to publish district success in certain categories. The website for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) states that these categories include performance on tests in reading and math, the closing of gaps in student performance, dropout rates, post-secondary readiness and attendance rates. The categories are what the department considers “priority areas.”
“The state report cards are not our biggest concern,” Medved said. The report cards are seen as a way to hold districts accountable for student success. “[Common Core] measures what a child can remember, not what they have learned,” according to a statement read in the meeting that consisted of teacher viewpoints.
Medved sees no pros in favor of the utilization of CCSS. “All of the claims made by the creators of CCSS have been debunked by the experts that have reviewed the standards and are now speaking out against the false education reform called Common Core,” Medved said in an interview. Medved strongly feels that Common Core lacks any redeeming qualities. So far, there has been little direct research that would indicate any positive impact on students as a result of adopting the CCSS, he said.
“This is a risky experiment to be attempting on 50 million school children across the country when we are not sure it is going to work,” Medved said.
According to the DPI website, “post-secondary” readiness is a standard of CCSS. “Tests are not applicable in life after school, period,” according to the statement read on behalf of Germantown teachers at the November 12 meeting.
The push for data collected in the classroom does not come from education, said West Bend’s chief academic officer. Instead, it comes from the legislature. “That has been mandated at a level above us. Do I think it’s always good? No,” Pauli said.
“We are beating our heads against the wall,” Medved said when talking about the obstacles that Germantown has encountered after moving against adopting the Common Core standards.
“Every school district has that authority [to create an individual curriculum],” Senator Darling said.
(Images: West Bend students take a district-mandated language arts standardized test on Dec. 9. Photos by Alex Kopish, Editor in Chief.)