Common Core Testing Not Answer to Millennial Malfunctions

Isabel Owens, News Editor

The “California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress” English and math tests will be administered to sophomores and juniors from May 16 through May 27. The standards assessed by the CAASPP were developed in response to a lack of critical and analytic thinking abilities among California students.

It’s been said that people my age haven’t been given the skills for “real” learning and are simply trained to recite definitions and facts. La Puma published an opinion article several weeks ago in which the author wrote, “Teachers must strive to provide content in meaningful ways and assess student learning with methods that reward critical thinking, innovation and progress rather than just checking for the memorization of facts.”

I’m all for educational reform, and I’m not opposed to Common Core’s basis that education should prepare students for the real world. But I don’t think that students’ supposed inability to problem-solve is the most significant failure of the workplace, and I think it’s completely untrue that my teachers do nothing but test me on memorization.

I don’t take a single class where I’m not forced to mentally engage, figure out how to do things on my own, and apply knowledge in a resourceful manner, and I don’t have any teacher who has given me a free pass through their class without caring whether I’m “thinking” or not. I’m also not stupid, although I may be selective in what I choose to spend my time learning, and I don’t appreciate that a much-needed change in the education system is coming –in the form of another test-based qualification of college readiness– from the idea that I haven’t been taught to think well enough.

The motivation behind these new standards gives both teachers and students less credit than they deserve. Teachers aren’t just lazily throwing vocabulary lists at students, and students aren’t incapable of caring about or obtaining meaningful knowledge. This ideology, I believe, is a significant part of the reason why our global rankings are slipping, why so many colleges are putting up suicide nets, and why teaching is a career with one of the highest rates of depression. Our habits of blaming teachers for everything wrong with students and telling the younger generation that they’re lazy and selfish prevent us from acknowledging the real problems.

This year I’ve taken 2 practice CAASPP tests, one for math and one for English, and neither felt significantly different from the standardized tests I’ve been taking my whole life. Sure, the questions were a bit harder than the ones on the STAR test, but aside from one question where I had to write a “logical conclusion” to an article, the questions were the same old “pick the best word” and “solve for x.”

Common Core, along with the people who say students don’t care about real work or learning, present less of a revolutionary new approach to education and more of a failure to acknowledge the real causes of our educational problems, which I doubt are just that students like me are too focused on grades. It’s frustrating that so much funding, so much extra work on behalf of already exhausted teachers, is going into a new testing/learning program that ignores issues of poverty, school funding inequality, and lack of appeal for teaching as a career, and seems to focus on making the smart smarter.

The quality of education one receives is still mostly tied to economic status. Were educational funding truly equal for all schools, then perhaps state-wide and nation-wide standards would make sense, but currently I feel as though Common Core will likely lead to an increase in educational performance in places where the costs of materials and teacher training can be paid and where teachers are valued enough that they’ll feel motivated to adopt new ways of teaching.

The main reason why Common Core presses for different methods of learning is, as their website states, “to ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life upon graduation from high school, regardless of where they live. These standards are aligned to the expectations of colleges, workforce training programs, and employers.” This implies that the younger generation doesn’t have all the skills that the older generation expects.

An article by Business Insider titled “Here’s How To Deal With Millennials Who Aren’t Ready To Face Real Challenges” lists the main issues with young people entering the workplace as “Millennials Need Mentoring,” “Millennials Need to ‘Feel’ Heard and Want a Spot at the Table,” and “Millennials Care More About Making Friends and Recognition, Than Money.”

“In REAL life you don’t get a trophy for losing. You don’t get a trophy for not getting your work done. You don’t get a trophy when you don’t feel like finishing something. And you certainly don’t get a trophy when you quit. For an entire generation of young adults this is a very difficult reality to face. The scariest thing about it? They don’t even realize this is a problem,” wrote the author of the article, Susanne Goldstein, whose words reflect those of many other adults.

I realize that this is a problem. I know that I need to be prepared for failure. But I would argue that the “real challenges” I face entering the workforce are more serious than my own incompetence (which I do not deny exists). According to a study done in 2008 by the Association of Women for Action and Research on 92 companies and 500 workers, 54% (272 workers) had experienced some form of workplace sexual harassment, 79% of which were women. 90% of transgender workers report some form of harassment or mistreatment on the job, according to a study done by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. African American women, making 63 cents to the dollar, work 7 extra months to earn the same paycheck as white men.

These are all clear explanations for decline in workplace productivity and frustration of employees. I know all too well that my generation cares too much about grades and this negatively impacts our job performance, but when reading articles about the failures of millennials in the workforce I’ve come to read “sensitive” as “doesn’t silently accept mistreatment” and “needs to toughen up” as “needs to stay complacent so my company doesn’t have to address the root issues of workplace discrimination.”

To the people who have a say in the state standards, I plead you this: If you really want us to receive knowledge that will better the world and allow us to become progressive, contributing adults, don’t just teach us how to apply math problems to “real life” situations. You say that we’re coddled and unprepared, so give us classes that will allow us to face the real issues. I want to be taught from a younger age about social reform, cultural and environmental awareness, the sexuality spectrum and gender issues, so my most significant failures in the workplace can be that I “need to learn how to work in a group” or “need to be a critical thinker” and not that I stay silent about systems of inequality.

When I was in 9th grade my history class had a discussion about whether or not sexism exists in America, a question I foolishly thought would be hard to get wrong. Out of all the boys in my class, every single one claimed that because women can vote, sexism no longer exists. Every single one. Some may have just been afraid to speak out against the majority, but still, I left class feeling let down by an education system that has allowed such smart people to be so uneducated about something that truly matters.

I know that required environmental science, ethnic and gender studies classes will probably never exist (many states still refuse to mandate sex ed) but I think this is the kind of reform that will make a difference in the success of our generation. It frustrates me that the focus is on, instead of these real-life issues, how my teachers don’t provide me with enough mentally stimulating math problems. If I grow up with ignorance, that will be far more detrimental to my future than if I grow up without state mandated skills pertaining to poem analysis.

In short, I agree with Common Core in that our education system needs improvement, but if I had a choice between learning how to value and support my peers or learning how to use iPads in math class, I would much prefer to frustrate my future employers by wanting a fair workplace and not remembering high school math than appease them with complacency. Social issues are often the cause of education and workplace issues, and critical thinkers should know that the effects of a problem cannot be addressed before the root.