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Standardize Your (CS) World

Standardize Your (CS) World

Anyone even remotely connected with K-12 education knows the pervasive emphasis on standards in the education world today. One huge focus in today's K-12 education world is the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), sometimes referred to as Common Core standards. Other national standards for K-12 education include the Next Generation Science Standards which have recently been completed and are now being adopted by some states. And of course, we also have our CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards, published in December 2011.

The national Common Core standards have taken some pretty big hits from critics throughout the country. Some politicians don't think the federal government should be dictating what is taught in state schools. Of course, the CCSS initiative was a state-led initiative, led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and not led by the federal government. There are also some pretty big misperceptions about exactly what the standards are. Some educators and others interested in education fear that the standards dictate exactly what is to be taught and how it is to be taught. In reality, "The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn." These educational standards help teachers ensure their students have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful. The standards help teachers "by providing clear goals for student learning." There is nothing in the CCSS that dictates how teachers are to implement the standards (though certainly some teaching strategies may need to be adjusted). If you have not already done so, you can read much more and find interesting facts about the Common Core State Standards at the website: http://www.corestandards.org/.

The CSTA Curriculum Committee has had the opportunity to receive feedback on the CSTA K-12 CS Standards from many people on various occasions. Some of the feedback the committee has received has indicated that there is a belief that the CSTA Standards are the CS curriculum that is to be taught in our schools throughout the nation. In fact, the CSTA K-12 Standards provide goals for student learning (what students are expected to learn at the different educational levels K-12) just as the Common Core State Standards do. The standards are not the curriculum itself, but merely a roadmap or blueprint of what the teacher is to cover in his or her class. The CSTA K-12 Standards do provide a scaffolded learning progression of computer science standards for students from kindergarten through the 12th grade. If students are not exposed to the content of one of the standards at the recommended grade level, it is absolutely acceptable for the students to have instruction on that standard at the next grade level, so instruction flows smoothly and students do not have gaps in their CS instruction. If you are not familiar with the CSTA K-12 Standards or wish to learn more about them, you can access them on the CSTA website on the standards webpage: http://csta.acm.org/Curriculum/sub/K12Standards.html.

To illustrate my point, I will share an interesting blog post that I read earlier this fall. The author provided three analogies demonstrating the distinctions between standards and curriculum:
1. The standards are like a map (Google map cited in the article) that provides the destination (the standards), but giving multiple routes (the curriculum).
2. A standard is like a bar set at different heights for high jumpers in track and field. There are many ways for the jumper to master clearing the bar, and those ways are like the curriculum.
3. The required dimensions for a football field in the NFL and the NFL rules are like standards. Each NFL team has a different playbook, and those playbooks are like the curriculum.

The map analogy and the two sports analogies provide a good way to visualize the differences between standards and curriculum. You may find the blog post by following this link: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/engagement_and_reform/2013/08/standardsnot_curriculum_three_analogies.html?cmp=ENL-EU-VIEWS2.

In my "day job" as a curriculum consultant for the state education department, I am quite familiar with standards. We have state standards for all of our courses, and where national standards are available, our state standards reflect those national standards. Other educators are becoming more familiar with standards and the need to have them as well. The CSTA K-12 CS Standards have proven to be useful for many of our members; not as a CS curriculum, but as a roadmap or guideline in setting local and/or district CS curriculum. Read about (or listen to) some of the success stories that CSTA members have had with the CSTA Standards at the links given below:

  • Google Hangout webinar featuring Kelly Powers and Padmajh Bandaru of Massachusetts detailing how they aligned their existing computer science curriculum to the CSTA K-12 CS Standards: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJSN4RQCpkE&feature=youtu.be
  • CSTA Advocate Blog posting by Tammy Pirmann, CSTA District Representative, from Springfield Township, Pennsylvania sharing how she used the CSTA K-12 CS Standards to expand the CS curriculum offerings in her district: http://blog.acm.org/archives/csta/2013/08/
  • CSTA Advocate Blog posting by Stephanie Hoeppner, CSTA 9-12 Representative, and Ohio CS teacher explaining how the CSTA K-12 CS Standards and crosswalks helped her with the new testing requirement to be used as part of the teacher evaluation system in her state: http://blog.acm.org/archives/csta/2013/09/
  • If you have not already "standardized your CS world" yet, take a look at the CSTA Standards and the associated resources available on the CSTA website. The standards and the resources can be your roadmap and travel guides as you create curriculum to align to the standards, or as you align your existing curriculum to the CSTA Standards and/or other national standards. Happy motoring!

    Websites and Web Resources cited:

    Common Core State Standards

    CSTA K-12 CS Standards webpage on CSTA website http://csta.acm.org/Curriculum/sub/K12Standards.html

    Standards Not Curriculum: Three Analogies http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/engagement_and_reform/2013/08/standardsnot_curriculum_three_analogies.html?cmp=ENL-EU-VIEWS2

    Kelly Powers and Padmajah Bandaru webinar:

    Tammy Pirmann's Blog Post Using CSTA K-12 Standards to Create Curricular Choices August 14 http://blog.acm.org/archives/csta/2013/08/

    Stephanie Hoeppner's Blog Post State Assessment Requirements and the CSTA Resources, Sept. 5: http://blog.acm.org/archives/csta/2013/09/

    Deborah Seehorn
    CSTA State Department Representative, Chair
    Curriculum Committee Chair


    Good, centralized CS objectives are just what we need to teach more than just computer literacy today, with how pervasive technology is becoming. I'd rather go to an IT service company here than have to outsource it somewhere students are learning more!

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