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Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
7:09 PM Tue, Nov. 20th

Column: Common sense for Common Core conundrum

One of the hottest issues for the 2014 Election was Common Core. Whether the race was for a federal, state or local office, candidates across the country were asked about their position on Common Core education standards.

Here in Arizona, candidates who pledged to do what they could to get Arizona out of its commitment to Common Core won hands down. During his campaign Governor-elect Doug Ducey stated, "I believe we can do better than the standards currently tied to funding from the federal government. Ideally, such standards should come from the state itself and not be imposed top-down from Washington."

Ducey's insight resonated with the voters. Likewise, State Superintendent-elect Diane Douglas made Common Core and the return to local control the centerpiece of her campaign. In Yavapai County, District 1 Rep. Karen Fann and Representative-elect Noel Campbell also made a commitment to do what they could in the legislature to return control of standards to the state.

So what can each of these individuals do to honor their pledge to Arizonans who supported them in this election? According to the Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 15-203, the Arizona State Board of Education is the entity that approves the state standards, for example, adopting the Common Core in June 2010. The name for Common Core in Arizona was changed to the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards in September 2013. With this, we have our Common Core conundrum.

Many states are wrestling with the same problem. Louisiana has been on the forefront with Gov. Bobby Jindal suing the federal government for its alleged overreach when it comes to Common Core and the aligned tests. Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, once a strong supporter of Common Core, recently drafted legislation prohibiting the federal government from "mandating, incentivizing or coercing" states to adopt Common Core.

But let us return to what matters most to Arizonans. What can be done so that common sense prevails and our students, teachers and school curricula are not caught in the middle of this debate? As Associate Superintendent for the Arizona Department of Education, 1997-2001, my primary responsibility was the development of the Arizona Academic Standards and our state's criterion-referenced test, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). When those standards were created and adopted, they were never meant to be set in stone.

The goal was always to make the Arizona Academic Standards top-notch and as such, the original standards were not developed in a vacuum. Hundreds of teachers, principals and parents involved in the creation of our original state standards consulted other national groups such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). There was much study and discussion about what to include in our state standards.

As a result of their fine work, the Arizona Academic Standards were rated as being among the very best in the nation. Unfortunately, over time these standards and the AIMS tests were dumbed down.

The importance of getting our academic standards right cannot be overstated. The three most important words in education are expectations, expectations and expectations. What we expect our students to know and be able to do are our academic standards; they are the very foundation of curriculum, teaching and student learning. These standards must be openly created, clearly stated and articulated statewide.

While it is easy to point fingers, what we need now is strong leadership to step up and embrace this opportunity to revisit the standard-setting process. One solution is to bring forth the original Arizona Academic Standards for Language Arts and Mathematics. Let's ask our teachers, parents and school leaders to affirm what they would want to keep, improve upon or eliminate. Next, ask teachers and parents what concepts within the Arizona College and Career Ready standards should be added to the Arizona Academic Standards. The key is that Arizona takes the time and openly defines and thoughtfully affirms our own state standards.

One of the many things I love about Arizona is our "can-do" attitude and willingness to find common sense solutions to problems. We have the right leadership in place to solve this Common Core conundrum. Let's get to work!

Dr. Billie Orr has been active in Arizona public education as a parent, teacher and principal for over 25 years, and served as associate superintendent at the Arizona Department of Education. She resides in Prescott and is the president-elect of the Republican Women of Prescott.