With the new Common Core federal education standards seemingly here to stay in Illinois, Congressman Randy Hultgren hosted a small group of educators, parents and school board members Monday night to determine how to avoid any major implementation issues.
Hultgren, who has spoken often throughout his 14th Congressional District about his own concerns with Common Core, said Monday he is still worried about a loss of local authority and the feel of a heavy hand created by tying implementation to millions of dollars in federal education funds. But he and his Republican colleagues have been mostly unsuccessful in delaying the new standards from going live.
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"We know this is moving forward," Hultgren said. "I would like to have seen us push the pause button. It hasn't happened."
With that as a given, Hultgren said he would now focus on addressing the problems with Common Core as it moves forward.
One major unknown involves how Common Core testing, known as the PARCC Assessment in Illinois, may be used to determine college readiness.
Waubonsee Community College President Christine Sobek said there is no guidance about whether students will continue to take the ACT exam, or if the PARCC will supplant it. And, if PARCC is the new standard, it's not clear if the exam will adequately measure college readiness.
Sobeck said there is already great concern in the higher education community about the large number of students entering college requiring developmental courses before they are ready for even 101-level college coursework.
From that standpoint, some change is required at the high school level to ensure students are being prepared for college, she said.
Kane County Regional Superintendent of Education Pat Dal Santo said her concerns with the new tests are the ability of local schools to have that many students take a computerized exam.
Her office is surveying local district now to determine if local schools have enough computers to administer the tests. Districts that must use a paper-and-pencil version of the exam must pay an additional $10 per student, she said. And no one knows where that money would come from.
Pam Reilly, the 2014 Illinois Teacher of the Year, said she's traveled to various school districts across the state and questions about Common Core tests far outnumber any others.
"I think the main concern of teachers that I've talked with, when they are honest, is the over-assessment of students," Reilly said.
The new tests are both an additional stress to students and teachers whose job performance ratings will now be tied to test outcomes, she said.
Reilly said the consensus among teachers she knows is that Common Core will be both more rigorous and allow teachers more autonomy in how they instruct students. The problem, she said, is every school, every teacher and every student must meet the same benchmarks. But not every school, teacher and student has access to the same resources.
"As a second-grade teacher, I know the destination my kids need to get to by the end of the year," Reilly said. "But some districts are getting there in a Cadillac. And some are getting there in a car with three wheels and a tank with no gasoline."