Common Core Standards: Why They Are a Good Idea

In this op-ed, an instructional coach and former eighth-grade teacher shares why the new standards will benefit students and teachers.

Common Core Colorado, Common Core State Standards, Common Core

One of the controversies around the Common Core State Standards is how teachers will be assessed. (Photo: Denver Post via Getty Images)

Jenna Barclay is an instructional coach and former 8th grade language arts teacher from Edwards, Colorado.

I’m an instructional coach in the Eagle County School District in Colorado. We’re a district that most would consider ahead of the curve. 

Common Core State Standards (CCSS)? My district’s got ’em. A rigorous teacher-created curriculum? Got it. A pay-for-performance structure? You bet. Basically, if it’s trending in the educational world, it’s living in our district. And, for the most part, our teachers have embraced these changes. 

They’ve spent countless hours unwrapping standards, designing curriculum, and creating assessments. And, once that work is done, they roll up their sleeves and dig into one of the dirtiest jobs out there: convincing everyone else why this work is necessary. 

One of the facets of my role is to support in-building instructional leadership teams. Earlier this year, I was listening to a group of instructional leaders discuss the changes that have occurred in the last three years due to the adoption of the Common Core State Standards in our state and district. Specifically, they were discussing the Common Formative Assessments (CFAs) that were created for use district-wide. CFAs connect standardized instruction with teacher assessment.

Teachers from across the district had come together to create these CCSS aligned assessments, and their rigor was in question. One teacher-leader mentioned how frustrating it was, as a teacher, to have students earn significantly low scores, time and time again on the formative assessments. 

If we don’t have a common set of expectations for all students...how will we ever have equity in education?

Another talked about how the rigor of the CFAs discouraged kids and caused them to shut down and tune out. At this underachieving, high-poverty school, motivation—for both teachers and students—was viewed as an important factor that leads to success. One by one, the leaders in the room voiced their concerns with the Common Core State Standards—they’re too hard, they’re too rigorous, they’re unattainable. 

However, the last teacher to weigh in on the conversation said something contrary to what was quickly becoming the popular belief in the room. With the CFA in hand, she said, “At least I now know how high the bar needs to be. For years, I set the bar where I thought it should be. How many students did I stop short?” 

She went on to explain that without a common set of expectations, she would have continued to make assumptions about what her kids should know and be able to do based on her instincts, the results of the students who preceded them, hunches and guesses, and other wildly varied factors. She explained that, before the Common Core, she didn’t know what the students in the school down the street were expected to do, let alone the students across the nation.

Her bottom line: If we don’t have a common set of expectations for all students—like those provided in the CCSS—how will we ever have equity in education?  

The CCSS have given us opportunities. They have given us an opportunity to engage in dialogue with our colleagues in ways we’ve never engaged before. They have given us an opportunity to challenge our students in ways we’ve never challenged them before. They’ve given us the chance to set expectations for our students that aren’t based on assumptions or instinct, but rather on college and career readiness and the belief that all students means all students.

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