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The politics of education is on the move in Montana. On Thursday, February 19, 2015, the Montana State House of Representatives passed four bills that will challenge the continued implementation of the Common Core Standards. The Common Core Standards represent a national standard for teachers to follow in literacy and math for grades K-12. 
Montana was the 46th state to ratify and accept the standards, which were developed from a broad coalition of educators, curriculum content providers and educational researchers over a three year period.
The implementation of the Common Core State Standards, ( known as CCSS) has had its bumps.  While the teachers’ community has been pleased to see a set of standards that raise expectations for each grade, there has been plenty of criticism on two primary rallying points:
  • The CCSS represent a federal intrusion into a state and local school policies.
  • The CCSS are unproven in terms of delivering better educational results.
Maybe the implementation schedule on the CCSS was a bit too aggressive, however, nationwide, the US clearly is not producing students as competent and educated when compared to international educational assessments.  In 2012, according to the OECD test results, the US ranked 17th in math, 21st in science and 17th in reading among the 34 OECD countries.  According to a NY Times article published on Dec 17, 2013, one of the primary reasons for the difference in student academic performance among countries in the developed world is the quality of the teacher training, the teacher professional development, commonly called PD.
On Wednesday, February 25, 2015, we broadcasted an interview with John Danner, on the show Game Changers: Silicon Valley (KMVT15, Silicon Valley Media Center).  John is an educational pioneer who has been a teacher, founder of Rocketship Charter Schools and now the founder and CEO of Zeal, an EdTech company measuring the effectiveness of curriculum content and student progress in the learning and demonstrating understanding and competence in the lessons being taught.

The Evolution of Weekly Assessments

The original concept behind Zeal was to have a test bank to help teachers personalize instruction.  The company had a test bank of 10,000 questions complemented with an additional 70,000 teacher-generated questions submitted to the system to assess a student’s strengths and weakness for personalized learning.  
But teachers had a more urgent problem than defining a “personalized learning program”, there were no tools for a weekly assessment of the standard lessons taught during each week.  The translation was, “we are teaching new content without a compass”, teachers did not have access to immediate assessment tools relative to the Common Core Standards and no validation of how a student might perform on the tests administered at the end of the school year.

Time is my Enemy in Educational Assessments

It turns out that school-administered tests and assessment results are available six to eight weeks after the lessons were taught.  This time lag is a major problem, the student has fallen behind, self-doubt and lack of confidence have already taken root in the student’s mind.  In this situation, the teacher has no option but to move forward and has no objective measurement or assessment of individual student understanding.
In follow up discussions with teachers on the effectiveness of Zeal, John was informed that teachers were using Zeal on an almost daily basis to determine the effectiveness of the prior day’s lesson.  Essentially this was an immediate feedback loop on each lesson and it was working.   And there was a side benefit;  Since the students we taking a computerized test two or three times a week, they were becoming comfortable with the Common Core test experience of taking a computerized test.  Teachers realized that besides the assessment of yesterday’s lesson, Zeal was also providing an indication of how well a student could respond to the procedures of the Common Core testing method.

Politics versus Results:

This 2014-15 school year is the first year of CCSS implementation and the implementation of a new, accelerated standard will have its issues. It will be a tough year, as a learning process for students, parents, and teachers.   
The Common Core Standards movement originated from an effort to address the declining performance of our students in having the skills to meet the job requirements of the 21st century.  Most people would agree that the previous situation of having 50 different state educational standards did not produce educational results when comparing the US to the education systems in Europe and Asia. 
In the interview, you will hear a perspective of an experienced education sector CEO speak about the charter school experience and about EdTech tools that are making a contribution to improving the quality of elementary school education.  

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