Common Core, Standardized Tests, and Great Leaders … Oh My!

Common Core, Standardized Tests, and Great Leaders … Oh My!

Pennsylvania’s own Punxsutawney Phil may have seen his shadow postponing spring weather this past February, but his shadow has no impact on the timing and schedule of the national standardized testing window for schools across the United States. The debate over which exam to use to measure student growth, drive instruction, and ensure that students are prepared for life after high school has 11 states, plus Washington D.C., using PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), 18 states using Smarter Balanced, and several states using ASPIRE (produced by ACT) as their anti-drill-and-kill standardized test to measure our nationwide Common Core.

The Common Core movement has strong and boisterous advocates on both sides of the fence in all arenas of this politically-charged education battle. Miscommunication about the Common Core initiatives, ulterior motives and agendas of political outliers, the “uncommonness” of assessments to monitor the Common Core implementation (the names, how long they take, the cut scores that will determine achievement, etc.), technology glitches with testing administration, and the time to administer the various assessments themselves have only muddied the waters of this battle. This leaves many parents (non-formally trained as educators, as I believe all parents are educators) and community members struggling to accept and trust how the Common Core and these standardized tests can deliver what they send their children to school approximately 8 hours a day, 5 days a week to receive: a world class education, period.

And so, this Common Core battle ensues with all stakeholders weighing in thoughts, perceptions, and opinions and our schools operating every day, nearly 5 days a week, four weeks a month, 10 months a year. During those school days and within the walls of school buildings is where we can witness “great leaders” who demonstrate intentional influence, which is what separates them from complacent, compliant, or even good leaders. Great leadership is difficult to identify in any organization AT A GLANCE, especially in a school building. Peruse a school building during this standardized testing window across the nation, and it will become glaringly clear where our great principal leaders are, at the very least, the leaders who leverage the quality of intentional influence, greatly. What do I mean? I promise to be clear. For now, please read on …

Here are some common themes I have experienced as we continue to live and experience this new era:

–      As a parent, I may not understand all of the Common Core Mathematic strategies (personally, I see Facebook posts/jokes all the time from my friends about the “new Common Core math where Red + Horse = 7 Framed Kites” or some other indication that they too are frustrated that they are unable to figure out their 1st graders’ Mathematics homework).

–      As a teacher, I may be nervous about the implications of accountability and job security relative to my students performance, as well as the calibration of the accountability tools to take into consideration factors outside of my purview.

–      As a building leader, ultimate accountability, standardized assessment and overall school performance may not be new to me. However, in the era of Common Core, continuing with the status quo is no longer acceptable, tolerated, or enabled. During this painful growth-spurt in our nation’s educational development, great building principals will shine bright. Great leaders are needed in their communities to create authentic value, support, and genuine buy-in for what happens day after day in their classrooms and will happen this spring.

–      School boards, districts and State Departments of Education continue to agonize or embrace the Common Core (which assessment, no assessment, navigating the opt-out movement, etc.)

The decision on which assessment will be implemented and the political propagandizing does not take place inside our school buildings. Allowing that to permeate beyond our school doors and distract our efforts has many unintended consequences for each and every one of our students—not just some. Regardless of how you perceive the Common Core and the alleged aligned assessments, no one can deny that the shifts are motivated by the desire to prepare all students to think more critically, analytically, and problem solve. It is my belief that, both sides (and all in between) want the same outcome—for all students to be BETTER than well positioned to compete in our ever-changing world. The vehicle for that change is in the spirit of the Common Core.

Ok, remember when I promised I would be clear and requested that you please continue to read? Here is the connection I am making with building leadership and our Common Core era: A great building leader with intentional influence can and will embrace, engage, and inspire their community during this time. For example, when you step into my building, speak to my parents, or attend a community event, you know what our school vision is, and how our performance demonstrates our ability to problem solve, think critically, and be analytical (all tenants of the Common Core). You will feel and know the how and what behind what drives us to realize our mission and vision. In my building, how the school, students, or staff are being evaluated or monitored (while important) is not as important as valuing and appreciating the importance of demonstrating growth in all that we do.

Great leaders do this by developing a strategic and deliberate plan to buffer out the “noise” (or distractions, if you will) while, most importantly, creating value for the school community in wanting to embrace the “why” of the collaborative school plan. They use intentional influence in creating value for components of the plan, including implementation of the Common Core or standardized test. Great leaders leverage their influence, not to manipulate, but to inspire, focus, embrace, harness and direct their efforts toward the common goal or good for maximum impact for all of their students. Great leaders don’t just check the box as they do this; they live this in their schools. It is genuine, transparent and with this intentional influence comes the strength and trust to learn from mistakes and change direction when needed; knowing that this great leader will have the support and confidence of their entire school community to change the course if needed because they believe collectively, and completely in the “why” of their school plan.

There is no shortage of articles, books, and blogs written on the qualities of great and effective leadership: courage, humility, communication, humor, passion, charisma, accountability, relationship building, professional will, problem solving, and the list goes on. All are deservingly on the list, but the leaders who leverage intentional influence are no doubt going to separate themselves from the pack this spring. As you can expect, I couldn’t agree more with Michael McKinney as I do now, when he said, “Leadership is intentional influence,” Of course, in the end, another great quality of a great leader is …. knowing when to walk away. If you are a leader where you find yourself politically or philosophically opposed or misaligned with the core values of the upcoming standardized assessment, the Common Core agenda, or any other agenda you feel is being “imposed” upon your domain by your state, district, or school, and you cannot create value to benefit your school community with intentional influence, without genuine belief, then this is not completely authentic and to continue would be self-defeating. Such a leader needs to disengage and lead an organization that is aligned to their core values; there is room on the battlefield for everyone.

Good luck, to all the districts, schools, staff, and students who are participating in the Spring 2015 Standardized Assessments. We look forward to celebrating your accomplishments, and to leveraging the great leadership that emerges from the 2015 Common Core Standardized Assessment in moving our country’s future. After all, it is the great leaders that understand that their intentional influence and effort is not only in the best interest of their school community, but will ultimately be responsible for providing the reliable data to allow us to make informed decisions on the other side of this nationwide Common Core education battlefield!


KristinaKristina MacBury is the CEO of Educate 4 Hope, an organization founded by experts in education with a strong passion for coaching future leaders and supporting students. She has spent over two decades as a turnaround specialist in urban education working with forward thinking leaders across the US. Her #1 bestselling book, Principal Pro, is a collection of real life case studies from her administrative tenure as an educator. She is currently the principal at Sarah Pyle Academy in Wilmington, DE.




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