Steve Hansen: Common Core adds critical thinking to basic skills

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By Steve Hansen

QCS Managing Editor

I recently was privileged to participate with our publisher Robert Arrowsmith and Logan Schools Superintendent Dennis Roch about the Common Core and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests.

We all agreed the Common Core is a valid approach to education and that the PARCC tests, which are based on Common Core teachings, are a good way to evaluate the results of Common Core methods.

Roch assured me that current high school students who depend on passing standardized tests to graduate were not disadvantaged by being tested based on only limited exposure to the Common Core.  They are still tested on the current Standards-Based Assessments tests for graduation and have other testing options to qualify, he said.

Robert has already published his view that recent controversies about the PARCC tests are overblown.  The PARCC tests add application of basic skills to solve unforeseen problems, as real life does, but, except for the Common Core’s critical thinking skills, the PARCC tests do not require basic skills students have always been required to learn.

I attempted an advanced (for high school) mathematical sample question from the PARCC website a few nights ago.  It required me to use algebra to test whether each of three statements about an equation were true and to verbally defend my opinion.  I could have waxed eloquent in my defenses, but my math was indefensible.  Garbage in, garbage out.

The solutions required application of several optional approaches to test each statement, and an explanation of why each approach was valid, and that’s the essence of Common Core math.

You not only have to be right, you have to explain why you’re right.

That’s where the critical thinking applies.

The Common Core also requires that added critical dimension to interpreting literature and non-fiction text in Language Arts, too, and requires students to apply what they’ve learned from critical consideration of what they read to other situations not in the passage they read.

In doing so, the Common Core promises to equip our kids with tools that help them deal with the unknown and the unpredictable.  They will be be ready to solve problems that don’t even exist yet, because they will be able to recognize, analyze and evaluate more possibilities,and then apply the skills we’ve always learned, too.

In brief, they’ll be ready to work and lead.

At least that’s the hope I have for the Common Core.

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