The PARCC assessment consortium has taken an indirect approach to defining career and college readiness (CCR). Rather than offer a definition of CCR, they are correlating educational assessment results with subsequent success. They have set their performance level descriptors to say that achievement on the Common Core aligned assessment of a certain performance level is predictive of success in entry level college courses. Level 4, the highest level of achievement, is associated as a benchmark with a 75% probability of receiving a C or better in an entry level course. The fact that they are making these predictions—defining descriptors this way—in the absence of any data highlights how difficult it is to actually directly define CCR.
The PARCC assessment got me thinking about the idea that the Common Core State Standards define career and college readiness. The idea would be that the standards—here I am thinking primarily but not exclusively of the ELA anchor standards and the eight standards for mathematical practice—create an articulated list of the necessary skills and knowledge that constitutes what is required to be career and college ready. There is something incomplete and unsatisfying about the standards as a definition that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until I read Jay McTighe’s blog in Edutopia. In “The Standards Are Not Curriculum,” McTighe wrote:
Similarly, while curriculum and instruction must address established standards, we always want to keep the long-term educational ends in mind—the development of important capabilities in the learner.
Although McTighe never explores the idea, he seems to be assuming the existence of “long-term educational ends” that are beyond the scope of the Common Core State Standards. I think this is right. If we only think about the standards as we plan curriculum and instruction, we will not intentionally think about other long-term educational ends.
Thinking about these ends quickly becomes a discussion about what we value, about what qualities we want in our high school graduates. Clearly, PARCC and other national groups should not tread there. By consciously considering these “important capabilities” (and I would add qualities), districts can put their own stamp on curriculum and instruction. If districts take this task as an opportunity to think deeply about what is important, then the curricular responses to the Common Core State Standards will be varied, strong and tailored to local values.