When it comes to education, New Jersey has consistently been a leader. It’s something on which we pride ourselves.
A critical part of being a great leader, however, is regularly seeking ways to do better, and this is exactly what we did in June 2010, when New Jersey adopted the Common Core State Standards, a set of benchmarks for what students should know at each grade level so they all graduate high school prepared for college and careers.
Education and business leaders in New Jersey recognized that students here and across the United States were falling behind their peers in other countries and were entering the workforce without the skills needed to be successful. As a result, they sought to adopt higher standards and place an emphasis on different skills to stay competitive in the 21st century global economy.
The Common Core represents a big shift toward higher expectations and stronger outcomes for students — one that will require time, resources and energy. But this investment is also enormously worthwhile, and we owe it to our children to stay the course.
With the Common Core, we’ll be upgrading the way New Jersey students are taught, how they learn and how they will progress from grade to grade. Because the Common Core places an unprecedented emphasis on critical thinking skills, students will not only master content, but also will learn how to apply that content in a variety of situations.
The Common Core also creates clear and consistent expectations of what students should be learning each year. The benchmarks are designed so that as a child progresses from kindergarten through 12th grade, she will gradually acquire new skills that build upon existing ones. There will be more of a seamless transition between grade levels, regardless of whether a child moves to another school district or who his teacher is.
The new assessments in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC — which will accompany the Common Core and slowly replace the NJASK (a multiple choice test of students’ math and reading skills) and High School Proficiency Assessments — will serve as an academic checkup to see if students are mastering a subject or need additional help.
With these improved assessments, parents will have peace of mind knowing how their children are doing, and teachers will be able to use information gleaned from PARCC to hone their craft and reach more students.
The Common Core will be beneficial for New Jersey students, and planning for a smooth transition to these new standards will allow students, teachers and parents to reap the full benefits. In the spirit of strong leadership and smart planning, the New Jersey Department of Education has taken significant measures to do just that.
Starting in 2010, the Department of Education adopted a carefully planned timeline for the full implementation of the Common Core by slowly integrating components of the standards into New Jersey schools over five years. This gradual, thoughtful approach distinguishes us from other states that may have opted for speed over quality during the transition.
Furthermore, the Department of Education has developed resources and initiatives, through collaboration with educators, superintendents, school board members and higher education officials, to ensure the standards and assessments are meaningful benchmarking tools for students and their teachers. These resources include the New Jersey Educator Resource Exchange website, which allows teachers to access and share instructional materials that are aligned to the Common Core.
The department’s academic team has also hosted more than 500 trainings for more than 15,000 teachers to answer questions and provide information about the Common Core.
New Jersey’s students deserve leaders who are willing to take necessary steps to improve our schools and ensure that our students will be successful in the global economy, despite challenges or concerns about shaking up the status quo. The Common Core is yet another opportunity to do just that, and we’re off to a strong start.
There is a lot of work that lies ahead as we complete our transition to the Common Core, but given our history, I have no doubt that New Jersey will yet again rise to the challenge.
Governor Tom Kean is co-chair of the nonprofit education research and advocacy organization JerseyCAN: The New Jersey Campaign for Achievement Now.
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