A Revolutionary School Improvement Program

By By Christine Barry, Asst. Superintendent, Merrimack Valley and Andover School Districts

Over the past few years, we have seen many new programs introduced in our public schools across the country. Many of these programs, including No Child Left Behind (NCLB), required more accountability for student learning, yet the definition of what students were expected to learn was never well defined. In fact, there continues to be huge differences in expectations among the states and regions of our country.

Recognizing the need for consistency, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were developed to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce. New Hampshire and more than 40 other states have adopted these new K-12 Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and English/Language Arts (ELA).

Common Core State Standards

What is meant by Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards were developed to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.

How were the standards developed?

The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, business leaders, researchers, and many other experts. The standards highly reflect models from states across the country and countries around the world and provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn.

Why are the standards important?

The standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so they will graduate high school able to succeed in entry-level college courses and in workforce training programs.

The standards

-are aligned with college and work expectations

-are clear, understandable, and consistent

-include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills

-are informed by other top-performing countries so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society

-provide appropriate benchmarks for all students regardless of where they live.

What is the timeline for implementation of the Common Core State Standards?

The standards will be introduced over the next several years. Appropriate assessments to determine student learning will be implemented along with the CCSS.

What will the assessments look like?

The new assessments, which will be implemented in 2014, will correspond with the CCSS and will be computer- adaptive assessments. That is, students will be allowed to progress on a test as far as their knowledge will take them. The tests will be less multiple-choice oriented with greater emphasis on problem solving and writing. The tests are designed to measure students’ learning of skills and concepts and will emphasize critical thinking instead of fill-in- the-blank answers. Students will be challenged to not only come up with the correct response but to explain how they arrived at the answer. Specialized computer programs will automatically adjust follow-up questions when students answer incorrectly. These tests will provide a clearer picture of what students have already learned and what they still need to grasp.

What will change for students?

Implementing CCSS will change the way students are taught and tested. The new standards for English/Language Arts are not fundamentally different from the current state grade-level standards, but the CCSS requires more rigor, focuses on reading comprehension, and includes a heavier emphasis on writing, grammar, informational text, thinking skills, better instruction, and literacy across the curriculum. The CCSS for mathematics do not isolate math skills into specific categories but instead integrate concepts. The focus shifts to covering fewer math topics in greater depth. In both content areas, the standards include increased emphasis on project-based learning and the development of students’ critical-thinking and problem solving skills. In classrooms throughout the district, students will be asked to explain and expound on their answers to questions.

How are educators responding to this challenge?

This is a big change for both students and teachers but not one for which we are unprepared. Because the new standards change how students will be learning as much as what students will learn, professional development for our teachers is essential. Now deep in preparation for this transition to the CCSS, teachers are attending trainings, reviewing and revising curriculum, practicing new instructional techniques in the classrooms, and implementing new assessment practices.

Not Everyone Agrees

Some people are not convinced that the CCSS are an improvement over curriculum requirements already in place. Others question the costs for the needed teacher training and the possible need for new materials. Some claim that the states are giving up a large measure of local control. Supporters, however, maintain that the school districts retain the leeway over how to introduce the standards into the classrooms and which materials to use. They also insist that employers do not say they are looking for people who can recite the multiplication tables or correctly answer multiple choice tests. Many people agree that the world has changed. Employers need people who can think.

For more information about the CCSS go to this Web site www.corestandards.org.