Dear Speaker Bolger and Chairman Kelly:

I write to you today to provide my opinion of the State of Michigan’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) based upon the hearings that we have participated in my role on the House’s Subcommittee on the Common Core, and subsequent research that I have done on my own time. I will break down my viewpoints into several categories, as the Common Core has many points that should be individually addressed.

Global comparison

The idea that American students should be as proficient, if not more, than the highest performing students around the globe is critical. As such, it makes perfect sense to create expectations that benchmark Michigan student proficiency against the highest performing nations. The argument has been made that the CCSS were not benchmarked against globally high-performing students, but rather students’ National Education Assessment Progress (NAEP) scores in states that align with the CCSS versus those that don’t, show higher scores on the NAEP for the CCSS-aligned states. It should be noted that NAEP scores are widely recognized for their accurate comparison of educational proficiency amongst students from highly-proficient states, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) develops a formula that allows comparison of NAEP scores against the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). The PISA is the assessment standard similar to the NAEP, but for international basis. The conclusion that I draw from these findings seems logical: greater alignment with the CCSS produces more proficient students by global comparison.

Depth of concepts, number of concepts

The argument supporters of the CCSS make regarding current education standards being “an inch deep, a mile wide” and the concepts required under the CCSS being “a mile deep, an inch wide” are well supported. The reordering of mathematics topics and inclusion of additional types of literary texts into the standards support a greater depth of content expectations than previous standards. From my viewpoint, this solves a fallacy that American students currently experience with a lack of sufficient proficiency of topics by the time they finish their K-12 school tract.

Cognitive ability of students

The argument has been made that reordering mathematics topics and literary concepts will not align with students’ normal cognitive abilities. I researched this outside of our hearings and found the best arguments supporting the notion that students will struggle with the order of concepts aligned with the CCSS are admittedly not supported by any evidence or cognitive research: it is a concern that students ‘could’ struggle, not that they ‘will’ struggle. I understand the importance of this argument and suggest that we monitor students’ abilities long-term, but don’t find sufficient reason (other than opposing opinion) to halt Michigan’s participation in the CCSS as a result.

Control of standards, control of committees

The committee has heard the argument that adoption of the CCSS means a state loss of content control, or a nationalization of curricula. First, the CCSS will not nationalize curricula; it is an educational standard (i.e. a goal or an expectation of what students should be proficient in), not a defined curriculum (i.e. the roadmap on how said goals are met). CCSS leaves curricula design to the MDE and the Michigan Merit Curriculum (MMC). To address concerns of standard control, the State of Michigan reserves the right to deviate from the CCSS at any given time should the State Board of Education choose to do so. From testimony presented to our committee, there doesn’t appear to be any truth that Michigan’s adoption of the CCSS leads to any loss of current State control.

Loss of creative abilities

It has been brought to the committee’s attention that due to the global comparison of the CCSS to other high performing countries, the CCSS reduces or eliminates American students from exercising creative abilities. In particular, a Chinese reference has been used many times. I don’t believe there is any merit to this claim, and have not found any quantitative evidence to support this claim — either presented during the committee hearings or available outside of the committee hearings.

Smarter Balance Assessment

It is important to note that the CCSS and the Smarter Balance Assessment (SBA) are two separate entities, though the assessment is aligned with the standards. I believe that the SBA is a significant improvement over the current Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) exam, as the SBA is designed to assess critical thinking skills of students rather than how much a student memorizes and retains, which the MEAP does. Critical thinking and problem solving skills are essential to Michigan youth, and the assessment of these skills serves a greater purpose than the assessment of memorized knowledge.

There does seem to be merit to the concerns expressed during sub-committee hearings that the state should reconsider the current plan for SBA implementation, as technology and organization requirements are not satisfied in some districts. It is my belief that the state should evaluate what the current time table is for SBA implementation and verify that all school districts are ready and able to comply with this time frame, and then revise it if they are not, or assist non-able districts in complying.

Speaker Bolger and Chairman Kelly, I am encouraged by the passage of this resolution in the House of Representatives. I would also like to extend my thanks to both of you for your detailed and deliberate work on behalf of CCSS. I applaud you for ensuring that the issue heard thorough and well-rounded testimony, and for moving the legislative process along efficiently upon completion of research.

Warmest regards,

Adam F. Zemke

State Representative