As a science teacher, I know firsthand the challenges teachers face every day. I’ve experienced the terror of a reckless classroom, the fatigue of planning lessons and grading papers long into the night, the frustration of recognizing my own limitations, and the joy of a student who finally “gets it.” As an educator I have often felt isolated and undervalued by policy makers who seem more concerned with waging partisan ideological battles than addressing the real concerns of teachers and, more importantly, our students.

As a SCORE Summer Graduate Fellow, I’ve seen a more effective approach as SCORE  bases its annual priorities on the feedback it receives from teachers and principals. This year SCORE conducted 21 focus groups, interviewing 92 teachers and 47 principals. I had the privilege of attending six of these focus groups and analyzing the data from all of the focus groups with SCORE’s director of policy, Alyssa Van Camp, and SCORE’s director of data and research, Drew Jacobs.

I approached these focus groups from the perspective of an educator, attempting to connect the experiences they described to my own classroom. I was struck by how much I had in common with those in attendance, and how some common sense policies could drastically improve the education of our students. Three major themes emerged:

The Common Core State Standards are improving instruction, but more support is needed: If teaching has taught me anything, it’s that effective execution is just as important as effective planning. The same goes for education standards. Many of the educators at the focus groups and I have seen our classrooms transformed as a result of the Common Core State Standards, yet not all teachers have been properly trained. More training and support is needed to build on that success and make sure all teachers have the tools to properly implement them into their own classrooms.

Teachers and students deserve an assessment that is aligned with state standards: Like most teachers, I have no problem being held accountable for my performance as long as it is a fair process. However, it is simply unfair to ask us to teach to one set of standards but then be tested and evaluated on another set of standards. Assessments must be an accurate reflection of what we actually teach and what our students learn on a daily basis.

More must be invested in technological literacy: As a teacher whose students took the PAARC pilot exam last year, I saw firsthand how a lack of technological literacy can diminish the integrity of an online assessment. Many teachers expressed similar concerns, indicating that any shift to an online assessment must be accompanied by a greater emphasis on student technological literacy.

My experience as a SCORE Graduate Fellow has allowed me to step back from the classroom and view education from a larger perspective. My big takeaway from this experience is that significant change is often difficult, complex, and will naturally stir opposition.  In order for change to occur and be sustainable, it must come from the ground up. These focus groups represent this principle in action, with concrete policy proposals being shaped by conversations with teachers and principals.

Too often the debate around education policy is grossly oversimplified, with people from all sides of the spectrum having their ideas criticized and their motives questioned. While this may make for good short-term politics, it is bad for students and teachers alike. Our students deserve polices and a political discourse that is a reflection of their value to society, and the opportunities they are entitled to as Americans. We adults – whether teachers, parents, or policymakers – can’t let up now; too much is at stake.