Thursday, September 19, 2013

Failing at Common Core - A First Hand Account By Oklahoma Parent Kristal Picolet

I am turning the blog today over to a parent.  Her name is Kristal Picolet.  

One day, out of the blue, she messaged me and began telling me about her experiences with her son in Colorado where all the standards had been moved to Common Core.  She and her husband made a job-related move here to Oklahoma and she speaks glowingly of how much better her son has done here in Oklahoma.  She felt compelled to speak out about her experiences now, since she has found her son's school is transitioning into the Common Core as all schools in Oklahoma are to be doing by 2014. 

Failing at Common Core
By: Kristal Picolet
Oklahoma Parent

I was a typical mom who was excited and eager to send her children off to their first day of Kindergarten. School would be so much fun, and I couldn’t wait to hear what they absorbed; to watch them learn and grow, and hear their stories. To enjoy and encourage them while they mastered the ability to learn how to read, write, and discover numbers. 

My baby boy was learning how to read! I treasured each moment at bedtime listening to him read me stories. He was very choppy, but he was five, and he was learning all of this complicated stuff for the very first time. Aren’t they supposed to be choppy? I recall thinking how amazing it was to watch him study and discover each word. It was so cute, because he wasn’t fluid, his sweet little voice trying to sound out each word or letter and I quietly enjoyed watching while his little brain ticked. 

After the first progress report, his teacher explained that he had a hard time in school. She said he struggled trying to memorize word patterns, dialogues, and memory blocking.

Obviously, we were concerned. Why can’t he memorize like the other students? Why can’t he write a personal narrative as well as Sam or Trina? Why does he continually receive the lowest assessment grade in reading, despite the fact that night after night we sit with him in his room and he reads to us perfectly fine? Again, very choppy, but we could always see definite progress. Why couldn’t he write those two sentences explaining all those math problems? 

As time passed our son began to have behavior problems, and we were constantly having meetings and conferences with his teacher. She would state, “He’s just not getting it. He’s falling behind.” We as parents couldn’t understand. Why would any five year old be considered a complete failure? Where was the encouragement? Why was he stressed out after only a few short months into school?

Immediately, I began to volunteer heavily in the classroom. I watched the teacher pass out worksheet after worksheet, and it was certainly rigorous, mainly due to the excessive amount of materials being covered. Most of the material was strictly introduced with little to no repetition. The children were expected to sit quietly in their seat the entire 8 hours, there were no centers, nothing hands-on, and quite frankly not much of it was engaging. Even I, myself as an adult struggled with boredom as she was presenting all this “stuff”. 

I noticed the majority of his class was fidgeting, laying their heads on their desk, twitching, giving blank stares, etc. She was presenting materials fast and furious, all of which mostly flew right over their heads. I realized at that very moment, it wasn’t just my son struggling. All those other students whom I thought were so far advanced were also having the same issues. How can 24 students be failing, in kindergarten? 

Quite often we would have anywhere from 4-8 pages of homework since the teacher didn’t have enough time to finish all of the heavy amounts of coursework in class. From kindergarten to 1st grade, and now into 2nd grade it was a challenge as our son continued to snowball further and further behind - or was he? 

After finally getting that one teacher who wasn’t too scared to say anything and whom I had built a solid reputation with after many hours volunteering in her classroom…she leaned over to whisper this during our parent teacher conference, "I have to give your child this pacesetter score (also known as common core standard grading), but I also want to give you this sheet as well", which she had handwritten, "this tells you how your child is really doing in my class." 

Huh? What? The pacesetter score was so complicated and rhetorical, nobody, including the teacher, could possibly calculate an actual grade. And now after three long exasperating years of this we as parents hear for the first time and are finally able to put all the pieces together, “Common Core.” The new secret curriculum none of us parents have ever heard about. 

We knew all along something wasn’t quite right and that our son really wasn’t that dumb, but by this point he hated school so much that trying to get him engaged was like banging our heads, his head and the teachers head against a concrete wall. 

Finally, it all clicked. We began to research common core, meet with the principal and our administrators and ask LOTS of questions. The grading was so subjective that nobody could even explain it. There were no clear, precise or solid expectations. The more research we did and the more information his teacher relayed to us (confidentially of course) we soon discovered how poorly common core was preparing students, specifically our own children. By this time all of the really good teachers and principals had either quit or retired, so it left us no choice. We decided to move as far away from common core as possible. We researched states that currently offered a traditional education. 

That spring of 2012 my husband’s job transferred us to the Oklahoma area. After just one year in a traditional school setting our son began to love reading and love school. He began to soar in all subjects. We no longer had a battle trying to just get him up and ready for school. He for the first time saw how clear and precise his expectations were and that he could actually reach to obtain a specific goal or task, and he did. Oh, how he did! He went from 0’s and 1’s, “partially proficient” and “rarely demonstrating required benchmarks” to a straight “A” student, practically overnight. 

He was nominated for student of the month, he began to receive perfect 100’s in spelling (mainly because common core doesn’t even include spelling in the curriculum), and he even told us that school was fun.  It was a huge relief to see him actually learning, and with such positive enthusiasm, excitement, and success. Lots of success!! We as parents could not believe the difference.  In fact, we even noticed a huge difference because for the first time we started seeing standard, very traditional homework assignments such as spelling tests and normal math. Not fuzzy math or integrated math. 

Our son was actually taught sentence structure, capitalization, as well as punctuation. He was asked to write about his favorite animal or his favorite sport rather than just handing him a blank piece of paper with no clear direction and expecting him to write independently an entire personal narrative or progressive poetry about his favorite “things.”   

We received our first traditional report card; it was so easy to understand. The teacher didn’t have to explain any of it, it was obvious what grade he had received and why.  His perspective changed, our family life changed, drastically. Our attitudes went from exhausted, frustrated and failing to encouraging, understanding and successful.  Our son learned and retained more in one year doing education the traditional way than three long exhausting years failing at common core the 21st century, never been tested way. 

 Each child is so much more than just one single test or obscure benchmarks.  I went back and found that “Common Core Standards Grading” PowerPoint slideshow (all 16 pages).  It was relayed to us parents during a two-hour parent presentation explaining how our child was going to be graded. Even after 3 years of them pushing all of this so called quality curriculum and dozens of pacesetter grades, still to this day the only single grade we ever understood was this, FAILURE over and over.  

How does that prepare any child to become a future leader, a future employee, or to reach new heights and tackle life head on? It’s similar to teaching an infant two-month old how to walk.