"There's a lot of confusion about the Common Core standards," said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the country's largest teacher's union, after a tour of Des Plaines schools Wednesday.
Van Roekel met with the Daily Herald Editorial Board to discuss the new Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia to better prepare students for college or a job. Alaska, Texas, Nebraska and Virginia are the only states that have not adopted the standards, while Minnesota has adopted only the English standards.
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Van Roekel talked about the differences between Common Core and the controversial No Child Left Behind law, which set new mandates on measuring districts' success through annual testing, yearly academic progress, report cards, teacher qualifications, and funding changes.
Common Core is a stateled initiative that is neither part of nor replaces No Child Left Behind. Adoption of the standards is not mandatory.
"No Child Left Behind introduced a lot of high-stakes standardized testing," Van Roekel said. "I see Common Core as very separate from that."
Common Core sets grade by grade benchmarks for reading and math skills that students must master from kindergarten through high school. The standards are meant to bring all states onto an equal footing when it comes to preparing students for college, Van Roekel said.
Van Roekel said he doesn't believe standardized tests effectively measure student learning and teachers' success in the classroom.
"We really have to get away from that," he said, adding that standardizing tests should be used for screening students, but other factors should be looked at to measure learning.
Test scores also should not be used as a primary tool to evaluate teacher performance, he said.
"I want a professional teacher who has had an evaluation system that helps them grow professionally from their first day to their last day in the classroom," he said.
For school districts, the challenges in the implementation of Common Core lie in finding curriculum that matches the standards and tailoring testing accordingly, he added.
Critics of Common Core have called the standards an "inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children."
Van Roekel said those opposed to the new standards should try to identify which of those standards shouldn't be there, what's missing from the standards, and what could be used in its place before rejecting it outright.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.