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Lachlan Francis is a senior at Brattleboro Union High School and Co-Vice Chair of the Vermont State Board of Education. Lachlan also serves on the Legislative Committee of the State Board and has worked with other organizations around the state to advocate for increased student representation and closure of the opportunity gap. Connect with him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

America’s public education system is currently in the process of implementing the Common Core State Standards. These standards, first put forth by the National Governors Association, will collate areas of instruction across the 45 states in which they were adopted. These new standards will also be met with a new set of standardized tests. For Vermont students, that means that the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) will be replaced with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam. While these new standards have been met with some resistance around the country, they are a step in the right direction for the public education systems of America and Vermont alike.

Common Core ensures that students in all the states who adopted the standards will receive a rigorous education in the same concentrated areas. What makes the standards successful in this is that their primary focus is on skills rather than content. This means that teachers and school districts will still be free to design their own curriculums. For Vermonters, this means a strengthening of community centered education will be possible.

These new standards will be assessed by the aforementioned SBAC exam. This new test will be computer driven and will be adaptive for each student based on their answers to previous questions. Schools will also be able to give the assessment in the spring as opposed to soon after students return from their summer vacations. While this test represents an improvement over the status quo, there is reason to believe that it will take several years for students to adjust to the sensation of taking a test on the computer. While it seems like it should be easy enough, access to technology is unfortunately often limited by socioeconomic status, meaning that students from impoverished backgrounds will be at an even further disadvantage when taking the test. While we must be aware of how this may affect results, we must also be conscious that computer skills will be woven into the definition of literacy as the 21st century progress.

The truth is, Common Core on its own is not a savior for our public education system. We still pass off high grades as learning, even though we know that they are not always reflective of a student’s accomplishment. We still use seat time, not proficiency, to determine completion of a class. In too many schools curriculums have been narrowed to meet the demands of a convoluted accountability system. And in many parts of this country, standardized tests are used to determine the merit of teachers, despite being better suited for strictly formative assessment. Unfortunately, Common Core does not address many of these issues. However without a shared national benchmark to organize instruction there is no way to ensure that a student in Enosburg is getting taught the same core principles as one in San Diego.

Page Last Updated on December 4, 2014