States should focus on assessments, not curriculum

Today, education leaders from across the nation (including our own Checker Finn) came together to endorse the idea of creating a national, voluntary, common curriculum that would be designed to supplement the national, voluntary, Common Core ELA and math standards. (See here and here for more.) While well-intentioned, shifting the focus right now to a national curriculum?no matter how voluntary?is a mistake.

That's not to say that teachers aren't going to need rigorous and thorough curricula to help them effectively teach to the standards. They are.

Rather, it's a question of what is the proper role of the state in CCSS implementation. And unless the state wants to get in the business of policing schools' proper implementation of a curriculum?whether that ?curriculum? is as detailed as a script or as general as a pacing guide?they would do better to focus the lion's share of their time and attention elsewhere. Namely, on ensuring that there are rigorous, CCSS-aligned summative state assessments in all core content areas.

The easy answer is of course to say that's already being taken care of. Most states have joined one of two consortia and the work on those CCSS-aligned assessments is already well underway.

But there is still much assessment work that needs to be done. For starters, between now and when the consortia-created assessments are ready for prime-time, states be tweaking their existing assessment blueprints to ensure that essential content is being properly prioritized across the grades.

What's more, states should be working within the consortia to understand?and to communicate to districts?how each of the standards is going to be assessed. That is?or, rather, that should be?what drives standards-aligned curricula and instruction in the end.

Beyond that, let's not forget that the ELA standards are actually called the ?Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects.? To date, no consortia are, to my knowledge, designing history or science assessments that are aligned to the CCSS. States, therefore, need to take the lead. And if the ELA standards are ever to live up to their promise, this work is essential.

Of course, the signatories are right that developing standards- and assessment-aligned curricula is essential. After all, it is typically the curriculum that provides teachers with needed guidance about how to teach the assessed standards. But if states do their job on the assessment side, they would do better to get out of the way and let districts (or even schools and teachers) decide for themselves which curriculum resources will best help them prepare their students to succeed.

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