The Common Core academic standards and more rigorous curricula and testing stemming from them are subjects of increased debate across the country. New York State is in the forefront nationwide of implementing Core-related curricula.
Newsday recently asked for the perspectives of students who have appeared in the newspaper's weekly "Way to Go!" section in 2013. Here is a sampling of their responses.
Varun Mehta, senior, Hauppauge High School
"The Common Core curriculum has a variety of positives and negatives when viewed from different angles. The overhaul of the way that subjects are taught in school has earned the approval of some and has left others fuming. One of the better parts of the Common Core is that the students will be exposed to a much higher level of rigor. This will elevate their performance and increase their critical-thinking skills from an early age.
"However, there are a few problems -- the most prominent of which is the requirement for both administrators and students to adjust to the way that subjects are taught in the Common Core. Both students and teachers have established processes for learning and teaching. The new methods employed as a result of the Common Core can sometimes be cumbersome and difficult to explain, leading to frustration of both students and teachers.
"I personally believe that the goal to raise standards for American students is a noble one, but I do not necessarily agree with the idea that students across the country should be exposed to uniform ways of learning and that teachers should be forced to teach a certain way."
Jessica Penna, senior, St. Anthony's High School, South Huntington
"My education from kindergarten to 12th grade has always been in a Catholic learning environment. When I talk to other students who attend public school or a nonreligious private school, I always see major differences in their schools' curriculum. Some schools don't require a language when their students are between kindergarten and fifth grade. Other schools don't offer half of the classes my school does, which is a shame. A few students say that they don't need to take classes I'm in, classes I need to graduate. Some of my peers from different schools say that they have minimal homework and rarely receive projects or book reports.
"With the Common Core academic standards, I hope that most schools in America will be able to grant each student an equal opportunity to learn things that were once denied or not available and create level amount of work students need to do. Whether it is a private Catholic school, a public school or a nonreligious private school, every student in their grade should be learning the same thing and receive equal amount of homework and reports. It just makes sense.
"However, I can see the dilemma. With the Common Core bringing such a new program, it lacks sufficient time for teachers and students to adapt to its new requirements. Giving rigorous and difficult tests that neither the professor nor scholar had time to prepare for is just not right. Teachers and especially students should not have to take on the excess amounts of work and stress this program would potentially possess."
Chloe Margulis, senior, Port Washington High School
"There are pros and cons to the Common Core standards. Despite what people say against Common Core, we see that it can be beneficial. Common Core standards decrease the cost that states would have to pay for their test development, scoring and reporting. By putting every state under the same standards, possibly one test could be developed to meet all the states' needs. This would help split the costs among the states and ensure that no one state is spending more than the others in achieving the same goal for all American students.
"However, there are also cons to the Common Core, which I believe outweigh the pros. Because of Common Core, teachers must go through extensive evaluations, according to the 'required' standards of Common Core. These extensive evaluations might not necessarily make the outstanding teachers shine the most, especially since a principal, for example, who didn't major in teaching English, must evaluate a professional and certified English teacher. It doesn't take into account the kindness the teacher might have toward the students and their ability to create close and educational relationships with the students."
Kya Banks, junior, Patchogue-Medford High School
"There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the new standards that schools, teachers and students have to meet. I view the Common Core, curricula changes and rigorous testing as a way to ensure that everyone takes education seriously. These standards set students up for the future responsibilities they will face in college and introduce a way for every school to meet the high standards of success and learning.
"It is important that parents, teachers and students are all on the same page with regard to education. We are in competition with various countries to be the top in education. I myself have been to many different school districts and have experienced some of the best educational experiences and the worst, which I think is due to the lack of motivation in people who are supposed to be our biggest motivators: our parents and teachers. Those who object to taking the time to try the Common Core and new curriculum do not want to put in the extra work to create a higher learning opportunity for every student.
"Benefits to the new standards are that it helps guarantee that students know and understand the material. Downsides to the new standards are that it doesn't introduce a fun way of learning. We all represent the future, and each and every student can contribute to making the future better."
Lacey Eberhart, fifth grade, Trinity Lutheran School, Hicksville
"Common Core has many new and interesting concepts. Here are some of the good things Common Core provides. Common Core gives a better understanding of the topics given. Another great thing is that if you need to be relocated anywhere in the United States you can still learn the exact same thing as the children in your grade level. Children are becoming more educated as well.
"There are also some challenges with the Common Core curriculum. Common Core is a lot of writing out and explaining. There is also a lot of information. Since there is a lot of information during school hours there is also a lot of homework given, which gives less time for after-school activities, hobbies, sports and exercise. It is taking a great deal of time in the day so there is less time devoted to other subjects.
"I think that each subject should be given an even amount of time per day so that we can understand all subjects that get us through everyday life. As I learn more using the new Common Core curriculum, it is getting a little easier because my brain is Common-Core-trained. It still is going to take a lot of time until it can be fully understood."
Brooke DiPalma, senior, West Islip High School
"When the words Common Core come to mind, you either accept it or you're in denial that it's actually being implemented. When the topic of Common Core first came up, I was outraged. My entire life I had been doing fine in school, succeeding in all my classes with the current educational system; however, this was until AP Calculus came along.
"I truly find this class a challenge. All my life I feel as though my education has been handed to me. We were taught a certain way of thinking and automatically assumed that the problem on the test was a problem identical to what we were taught. However, on my AP Calculus tests this was not the case. I strongly feel that the implementation of the Common Core, this new analytical way of thinking, will benefit students across the nation for this reason. They will be able to solve problems by 'thinking outside the box' rather than being restricted to a single path for every solution.
"However, a huge downfall of the Common Core is that it is going to be an extremely difficult transition for current students. I expect test grades to decrease before they can increase. Ultimately, I am a strong believer that the Common Core will benefit our nation in years to come."
Matthew O'Connell, junior, Commack High School
"The Common Core can be likened to raising the water level at a public pool. There are all kinds of swimmers in a public pool, just as there are all kinds of school systems in the United States. By raising the level, school systems already at a high standard -- like those in New York -- are provided with a way to challenge their students. Unfortunately, by holding all schools at the same standard, this has also raised the water level for schools that metaphorically could not swim before its implementation, leaving both faculty and students to drown.
"The fault lies in the Common Core's implementation. Instead of implementing the Common Core into an incoming class of students and then progressively moving them through the program, students are thrown into the Core's rigorous waters without having taken any courses to prepare for it. Monetary incentive has placed a threatening mandate on states and is likely the source of why they are turning a blind eye to their schools' needs. To highlight some of the absurdity as it applies to faculty: Teachers are currently teaching students for exams that they do not know the content of.
"Additionally, it should be noted that a system where students are expected to know information by first grade simply cannot work if kindergarten is to remain optional."
Arielle Gelosi, senior, North Babylon High School
"In context, there are many positive attributes to the Common Core standards, yet when put into action the Common Core leaves nothing but problems and questions. Though it is a great idea to enhance the learning of today's youth, did the writers of the curriculum consider the pressure they were putting on such young children? Elementary school children do not have the capability to understand and reason at the level that the government is now expecting of them. Psychologically and scientifically speaking, it is near impossible for these children to measure up cognitively to the new standards. Ironically, there was not one childhood development expert on the board that created these standards or curriculum. Of the 135 committee members, none were qualified in early childhood education or were even a kindergarten to third-grade teacher. These children will be pushed beyond their limit, and psychologists have already proven that knowledge cannot be forced into young children.
"What policymakers don't realize is that by the time students reach high school they will be so tired from their hasty education that they will be burnt out before they graduate. For those that are able to keep up, they will have the skills to succeed at the college level, but they will not have any, as they were told everything they should think and know. When thinking about it in that light, Common Core sounds almost as if it's a way for the government to tighten their grip over the emerging youth."
Elizabeth O'Grady, senior, Ward Melville High School, East Setauket
"Students are not machines. We do not all have the same learning style, retain information at the same pace, or do well on standardized tests. The reason behind the Common Core seems logical: to prepare students for college and a career in life by nationalizing education. But like all ideas that sound great, there are negative effects.
"Teachers' lesson plans will become more challenging and the coursework for all grades will be more difficult. As the difficulty of the coursework increases, so do the tests. Parents are concerned the nationwide standardized tests will not accurately measure a student's intelligence and ability to succeed. For example, in 2012 over 65 percent of eighth-graders in Michigan were considered 'proficient' in reading by the Michigan Educational Assessment Program, the current state accountability exam. But if Michigan were to use the National Assessment of Education Progress exam, only 32 percent of Michigan eighth-graders were marked proficient in reading in 2011.
"A test resembling the new Common Core guidelines was given to New York students last spring. The results were horrible, with the statewide proficiency rate at 31 percent. As the questions on exams become more challenging, the time spent to complete the tests increases.
"The Common Core will require students in all grades to take more rigorous and time-consuming exams. But more importantly, your education will be placed in the government's hand rather than the states' and the teachers you are with every day."