Our view: Uniform benchmarks can best gauge school success

There are Minnesotans who abhor the Common Core education initiative as much as anyone anywhere in the U.S. In the Northland, there's an entire grass-roots group devoted to its opposition.

Cartoonist's view
(Adam Zyglis / Cagle Cartoons)

There are Minnesotans who abhor the Common Core education initiative as much as anyone anywhere in the U.S. In the Northland, there’s an entire grass-roots group devoted to its opposition.
And that’s despite Minnesota adopting only Common Core’s English language arts standards, which the state did in 2010. The state did not adopt Common Core’s mathematics standards, opting instead for its own “Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards” for math and other areas. And in some of those other areas, the state allows or requires local districts to adopt their own standards and ways of assessing whether they’ve been met.
Follow all that?
When it comes to setting benchmarks for students and measuring whether they’re learning what they should be learning and what they need to be learning to have a shot at success in the real world and at contributing to society, the many measurements of recent years - some adopted and some not, some applied nationally and some only locally, some met with controversy and some with praise - are only causing confusion, angst, disagreement and disjoint.
Are kids learning what they should be learning before graduation? Who can tell anymore?
In Minnesota, an outcome-based education model used to be followed. It was replaced by an assessment called Profiles of Learning. Then came eighth-grade basic skills tests. Then MCA testing, or the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments.
In 2010 the state adopted Common Core - well, some of it, right? Legislative action would be needed for the state to adopt the Common Core mathematics standards before the next scheduled revision, which comes this year, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.
Further, lawmakers scrapped, in 2013, the Graduation Required Assessment for Diploma exam, which students had to pass to graduate. Now students just need to take the test and other tests more in line with postsecondary requirements.
Somewhere in there federal No Child Left Behind legislation added reporting and other requirements. And no doubt some development or idea or proposal was missed as this editorial was researched, even though there really aren’t all that many years being covered.
Talk about a hodgepodge of changes and shifts and readjustments. The result is a nightmare of confusion, suspicion and angst for parents and other observers and worse for school districts, teachers and students never quite sure what’s expected and how to get there.
Preferable would be a uniform, agreed-upon-by-everyone way of measuring whether kids are learning what they need to know and ought to know. Standards that are actually standard - and without any need for a grass-roots group devoted to their opposition.


Coming Saturday
Don’t expect impartial or unbiased information, but there’s an opportunity to learn more about Common Core on Saturday. Tellingly titled, “The Case Against Common Core and National Standards” is at 2 p.m. at Duluth Gospel Tabernacle, 1515 W. Superior St. It’s free, but an offering will be taken and seating is limited. The featured speaker is Duke Pesta of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and the academic director of FreedomProject Education ( He is a national-level speaker on Common Core. The event is sponsored by a group called Northlanders Against Common Core.

About Minnesota’s standards
The “Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards” are the statewide expectations for student achievement in K-12 public schools. The standards identify the knowledge and skills that all students must achieve in a content area by the end of a grade level or grade band.
Minnesota has state standards for English language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, physical education and the arts (local school districts may choose to develop their own arts standards).
School districts must develop their own district standards for health, world languages, and career and technical education. School districts determine how students meet the standards by developing courses and curriculum and by choosing teaching methods.
Source: Minnesota Department of Education

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