Common Core: Is it losing its luster?

The 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education has been released and it is showing some intersting statistics about the Common Core.  At the start of the Common Core, scores were strong and improvements where made, however they did not hold true over time.


One of the major shifts in the Common Core, a switch from a focus on Fiction to a more balanced approach is shown below.  There are other figures that highlight the effects of specific changes that have come with the Common Core but I share this one because I feel this one will stick for the long haul whether we keep the Common Core or go back to the drawing board.

figure 1-2

These charts show how the gap has begun to change dramitically once the Common Core became more commonly used accross the country.  The next table below, shows analytics that display the changes in the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) scores over the past several years.  Has this shift had a major impact?

The categories are based on how strong the implementation of the Common Core is in a state (Strong, Medium, and Nonadopters – there are only 4 states to not have adopted the common to this point). The charts show that during the first few years of the implementation process that the Common Core was having a positive impact which had everyone excited over the shift.

figure 1-4 1-5

What might be somewhat disturbing for all Common Core supporters will be the latest statistics that show strong gains in states who did not adopt vs small gains in those who did.  Some of the same trends found in reading are also shown in math.  In 4th grade there was less emphasis on data and geometry while in 8th grade there was a shift from an Algebra 1 focus to a more “general” math class.

cc 1-6 1-7.jpg

Here you can see that math scores dropped accross the board in 2013-15 in both 4th and 8th grades but dropped more severly in schools that had strong Common Core ties.  This is a much different story than 2011-2013 where the Common Core continued growth trends and the nonadopters faultered.

The kicker was that in 2013-2015 strong implementers took a large hit while those did not dropped, but not as far.  Catch 22 because either way, the article states that this it the first time in 25 years that there was a drop in math scores on the NAEP.  Now looking at the overall statistics, it favors the Common Core which will make supporters feel better that it shows stronger over time but again either way, math scores slipped.

The shift to the Common Core is a major change to how our children are educated and is impacting education from the ground up.  As a former teacher I was exposed to the Common Core and how different it is to the “standard” way of learning so when my daughter was old enough to start school some of the interesting ways to learn math for example, were not as surprising to me as they are to other parents.

How many of you have heard parents say, “What is this new Common Core”?!  “I cannot even help my children on their homework because of the new Common Core!”  These converstations are common amoungst my wife and I when we are with my daughter and her friends parents.  It is something that is drastically different from how they learned and we all know that change for most is extremely difficult.  This is where I see the most impact and the converstations revolve mostly around math.

“Patience is a virture” is one of those quotes that has been drilled into my head from my father and I think that we need to show patience when we talk about the Common Core.  I am not saying it is the key to our success in the future as we strive to close the achievement gap and catch up to those countries that have the strongest education systems in the world.  I am saying that we have completely changed they way we teach by completely adjusting some of our key practices in curriculum and instruction. (Fiction/non fiction in all age groups, data and geometry studies in 4th grade, as well as the options for courses in 8th grade from Algebra to a more general approach) To look at the evidence at this point in the game and accurately state whether it is successful or not is not fair.  It takes time for teachers, students, parents to buy into a new philosophy and see changes.  Time will tell and the next few years are critical for the Common Core movement.

This study, although it has some flaws that are summarized at the end of their findings,  shows that the Common Core had a high impact on children at the begining but it has certainly tappered off.  The interesting thing is that for the first time in 25 years math scores dropped for both states that implemented and did not implement the Common Core.  As a former math teacher, this is disturbing all around.

What do you think is the futre of the the Common Core?  Either patience is a virture and we will really start to see growth in student scores because we provided adequate time for change to occur OR we maybe rediscussing where we need to go next if scores in two more years reflect what they show today.

**All charts in this blog come directly from the report.  The purpose of the article is to provide you a highlight of the data presented while offering commentary on the findings.  I encourage you to take the time to review it and its findings on your own!  Click here to check it out! 

What is our BEST Taxonomy?

Peter DeWitt, Ed. D published a great article “What’s Our Best Taxonomy? Bloom’s or SOLO?”.  He does a great job at explaining both Taxonomies while providing you insights as to how each can be and is used.

This article address a topic that I was first taught in college at Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania: Bloom’s Taxonomy.

The 6 stages of Bloom’s Taxonomy are:


  1. Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Evaluation

The idea of Bloom’s is to make sure that you are hitting all the levels of cognitive thought and if you are then you truly testing for mastery vs. memorization.  However, once I started to teach, I learned how difficult it is to assess students at a high level and then also judge where they fell in their understanding based on the taxonomy.  I found myself looking to other methods to assess my students level of understanding of the content.

According to Mr. DeWitt, “The criticism with Bloom’s is that it seems to focus on regurgitating information, and that anything goes. A student can provide a surface-level answer to a difficult question, or a deep answer to a surface-level question.”

Let us now turn our attention to the SOLO Taxonomy that was created and developed by John Biggs and Kevin Collis in the 1980’s.  Biggs describes their taxonomy as, “SOLO, which stands for the Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome, is a means of classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity, enabling us to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not of how many bits of this and of that they got right.”

The 5 Stages of the SOLO Taxonomy are:


  1. Prestructual
  2. Unistructual
  3. Multistructual
  4. Relational
  5. Extended Abstract

So the purpose of the SOLO Taxonomy is to reach even past assessing and judging the value of materials that are learned to developing theories and applying their knowledge to explore new ideas.

The most powerful piece of the article, for someone who was brought up on Bloom’s Taxonomy, was this quote from Mr. DeWitt “Through reading blogs and research, one of the positives sides to SOLO is that it makes it easier for teachers to identify the levels, and therefore help guide students through the learning process.”

I always found myself just looking at the verbs of Bloom’s and incorporating them into my assessments to reach all the levels of the Taxonomy but found it so hard to make judgments on how my students were progressing.  With the SOLO Taxonomy you could consider reducing it to a much simpler scale of I statements…

  • I do not understand what just happened – Clueless
  • I sort of understand what you are saying – Somewhat understands
  • I am on the same page but not connecting the pieces – Moderately understands
  • I am on the same page and explain it to my neighbor – Fully understands
  • I understand and feel that this concept applies to another idea I had in mind – An extension to what I have learned.

So after reading the article and my thoughts on what I have experienced during my teaching career, which side to you stand on?  Bloom’s or SOLO?

Images are from the Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.