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Common Core Discussed in Millburn School Superintendent Letter

'Millburn will NEVER lower its standards,' Superintendent James Crisfield says.

Millburn School Superintendent James A. Crisfield sent the following letter to Millburn parents and teachers Monday.

School officials Monday said that more details would be available regarding Common Core at the May 12 board of ed meeting.

The Millburn Board of Education is scheduled to meet Monday night at 7:45 p.m. to discuss and vote on the school budget. The meeting will be held at the Education Center. 

For more info on the budget, you can also follow these links to the budget newsletterSpotlight on Education: School Budget show and the school budget webpage.

Crisfield's letter follows:

April 28, 2014

Dear Parents/Guardians:

The phrase “Common Core” is stealing the headlines of late, stirring up all sorts of emotions and partisan political wrangling all across the country.  I’d like to take a few moments to explore what this means to us, locally, from an educator’s perspective, and to hopefully shed some light on a few related topics.

First, let’s define some terms: 

  • CCSS:  The “Common Core State Standards” were developed nationally in 2010 by a large group of governors and state-level education officials and have since been adopted by 44 states across the country. They cover two areas:  English language arts and math.
  • Standards vs. Curriculum:  “Standards” are often confused with “curriculum,” but the two are not the same.  Standards are a set of things that students are to know or be able to do.  Curriculum is how/what students are taught in order to learn or be able to do the things set forth in the standards.  For example, a standard would be:  “Students will be able to write a persuasive essay.”  A corresponding curriculum excerpt that would pertain to that standard would be:  “Students will compare and contrast the works of historical and modern day writers who sought to persuade their readers.”  As you can see, the first can then come from the second.  And a key point is—LOCAL DISTRICTS DETERMINE THE CURRICULUM.
  • PARCC:  PARCC (“Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career”) is a set of standardized tests in Grades 3-11, developed nationally by a consortium of states, intended to be a standards-based assessment of how students are doing in that state’s education system.  PARCC is based on the CCSS, but the two are independent things.  States need to have a standards-based assessment system (like PARCC) in place in order to qualify for various federal grant initiatives as well as to qualify for a waiver from the onerous No Child Left Behind requirements (a previous federal education initiative that is still in place).  The federal government has required standardized testing since 1990, and New Jersey will start using PARCC instead of the current NJASK tests starting in the 2014-15 school year.

Where does all this leave us here in Millburn?  Let me first note an upcoming, comprehensive presentation on this subject that is on tap for our 5/12/14 BOE meeting.  We will go into all these topics in much greater detail than is possible here.  But, meanwhile, I want to get a few observations out there, ahead of time, in order to help keep things focused and balanced:

  1. The upset about CCSS is for the most part politically driven.  These are standards, not what will be taught, and Millburn will NEVER lower its standards.  If the common core happens to have a standard here or there that happens to be higher than ours is, locally, then I think we can all agree it’s a good thing to strive for that higher standard.  In other words, it is important to recognize that the CCSS are the minimum standards that students must meet.  We have used them as guidelines to revise our curricula and have kept or added many other standards, of our own design, to reflect the rigor and academic expectations for the programs in Millburn that have been in place for years and that will continue to be in place.
  2. The upset about PARCC (and testing in general), on the other hand, deserves some attention.  For example, the volume of testing is something we can and should and will talk about.  While I understand and endorse the idea of having students show how they got an answer (i.e., assessing higher order thinking skills, which is something PARCC does), rather than just bubbling in a multiple choice selection, I am concerned about the amount of time spent on testing in total.  We are exploring ways in which we can mitigate that.  More to come on 5/12/14 and afterwards, as Millburn educators put our heads together to brainstorm for options and solutions.
  3. There are some related issues that also deserve our attention, such as using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers (something about which I personally remain quite skeptical), what will be done with all this student test data in the future at the state level (very legitimate “Big Brother” concerns, despite assurances to the contrary), etc.  These and other issues will be explored in depth at the 5/12/14 presentation.

In conclusion, education needs to be free of and from politics, and especially the partisan variety.  My job is to insulate the schools from any such pressures or distractions, and that is exactly what I intend to do on this front. We will carry on, doing what we know is best for our students, and let the political maneuvering take place away from our schools. 

Sincerely,

James A. Crisfield
James A. Crisfield, Ed.D.
Superintendent
973.376.3600 x151
james.crisfield@millburn.org

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