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Common Core Standards Coming to the Dublin Unified School District

January 22, 2013

Frederiksen Elementary School Classroom

If you have a student in elementary school, middle school or just starting high school, a significant change is coming that will impact how your child’s academic progress is measured. A whole new set of standards and assessments are coming our way, starting in 2014-15, when the Dublin Unified District is officially implementing the new Common Core State Standards. Full implementation will take several years, replacing the current standards and STAR testing.

California is one of forty-five states embarking on this new educational initiative. Alaska, Nebraska, Virginia, and Texas are not following suit and Minnesota has only adopted the English core standards. The District of Columbia, as well as four of the US territories (Guam, American Samoa Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands), are on board as well.

The Common Core State Standards are an initiative coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The list of standards was developed collaboratively with teachers, school administrators and other experts with the intention of preparing our children for the rigors of college and of the workforce.

As these standards are common, all students living in the US (excluding the states mentioned above) will be exposed to learning environments demanding higher-level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

Two different national consortiums are responsible for developing the assessments our children will take in place of the current Standardized Testing and Reporting (Star tests). California will be using assessments developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Each year our students in grades 3 to 8 will be tested in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics and in high school grade 11 students will also be given a summative assessment to determine whether they are college and career ready. Interim assessments will also be used to inform students of their progress towards learning of the standards. New and interesting will be the use of computer adaptive technology which will adjust the difficulty of questions throughout the assessment depending on how well a student is doing.

To better understand the purpose and impact of the Common Core State Standards, I met with Dr. Tim McCarty, Assistant Superintendent for the Dublin Unified School District.

Mary Morehead: Why did the Common Core State Standards come about?

“The educational standards movement was started by President Reagan in 1983 due to the frustration expressed by business and universities that students were not college and career ready. A Nation at Risk report suggested key recommendations for each state of which California implemented many. In spite of these reforms, student achievement continued to lag for many students sparking President H.W. Bush and then Governor Clinton to convene business and educational leaders for a National Education Summit in 1996. At this summit, each state agreed to create educational standards that clearly indicated what each student was to know and be able to do.

“California formed a commission for Math and English Arts Standards which were approved in 1997. These standards are currently in place for all California schools and are rated as amongst the most rigorous of all the states.

“Nationally, student achievement continued to lag mostly due to the fact that there are too many standards and they do not align to college and career readiness. To remedy this problem, a national set of standards was created that is better aligned to the necessary skills to be successful for college and career.”

Morehead: What is Dublin Unified District’s plan of implementation?

“The first phase of implementing these standards is for administrators and teachers to understand the standards and the new assessment, Smarter Balanced. We have been working with administrators and teachers to understand the key elements of the Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balanced assessments.

“We created two teams, math and English Arts Curriculum Councils to lead this progress. These teams meet four to five times per year and they are currently making plans to hold summer institutes for teachers. We are projecting that from the use of summer institutes and staff development days, our teachers will be highly effective in helping students learn the new standards. And our Professional Learning Communities (PLC) work is laying the foundation for our teachers to understand the new standards and assessments. As the current standards, the ones adopted in 1997, are still in place our attention has been on these as there are federal penalties associated with the current standards and assessments but after this year all our focus will be on the new standards and assessments. Summer institutes and staff development days will focus more and more on the new standards and assessments.”

Morehead: How do these standards differ from our current ones?

“In general, the new standards start with the end in mind, college and career readiness. At the end of the twelfth grade, each key academic strand lists a final standard, called an anchor standard. The anchor standard is tracked from kindergarten through twelfth grade; each year students learn a few more skills and concepts until they have mastered the anchor standard.

“If students have command of these anchor standards, as measured by the Smarter Balanced assessments, they will be ready for college and career. These standards have been reviewed and validated as appropriate by over 1,000 professors.

“Several key differences are noteworthy between the 1997 California standards and the Common Core State Standards:

  • The new standards are more closely aligned to college and career expectations.
  • In general the standards are more clearly stated and they build upon each other. Each year the same standard is restated in more complex ways and in the final year, the anchor standard which is the statement of college and career readiness.
  • The standards are consistent across the States. The value in national consistency is that we can combine efforts and resources toward implementation. We regularly use resources developed at a national level for local implementation.
  • There is a major shift to the explicit teaching of higher order skills. Mastery of higher order comprehension, writing, research, speaking and listening and mathematical problem solving are well researched priorities for both university and workforce readiness.
  • Common Core Standards are internationally benchmarked. The writers of the common core built upon the best practices of the standards developed in 1997 and they evaluated the standards used by the highest performing countries around the world. Based on the best practices evidence, the common core standards were created.
  • Implementing the Common Core Standards results in a reduction on the number of standards. California’s current standards are too numerous. The Common Core standards limits the number of standards so that mastery is possible. The highest achieving countries in the world have fewer standards for each grade level.

Morehead: What kind of learner will be fostered through these standards?

“Students will have the necessary basic skills in Mathematics and English Language Arts. Mathematics includes our current focus on all basic skills but there is a major change in that students will have more focus on explaining their mathematical thinking and math problem solving will have an extensive focus.

“Key differences in English Language Arts are that students must be able to comprehend complex textbooks and other sources of information including a shift in focus to more nonfiction literacy. Formal presentations about what students have learned in science, social studies, and other content areas will be increased. In general, high school students should be ready to conduct research, write about their findings and be able to persuade an audience by effectively communicating their evidence. English teachers will continue to focus on complex literature but increase the teaching of complex writing.

“Students in general will have to read and write more closely to the requirements of college and work. They will have to practice reading across multiple texts and Internet sources, and they will have to write more complex papers, which are supported by evidence. Students will be excellent note takers and they will have to summarize their findings into central thoughts.”

Morehead: How will the practice of teaching change most significantly?

“Teachers will have fewer standards, and thus, they will be able to focus on teaching higher levels of thinking and problem solving. Also, all teachers will include writing, researching, speaking, and listening into their lessons. As students near graduation, the complexity of their assignments needs to mirror college and career requirements. Having many facts is important but being a critical and creative thinker is equally important for college and career readiness.

“Math teachers will be posing mathematical problems to students and help students through the multiple ways to solve a problem. The use of algorithms will be tightly connected to problem solving rather than being separate entities.”

Morehead: How will the new assessments differ from the current Star testing?

“The new assessment, Smarter Balanced, is being developed. We watch the development of this test weekly.

“Multiple measures include selected response (typically multiple choice using computer adaptive technology); constructed response (short answer or short essay); and performance tasks (these longer tests include note taking as well as writing using multiple texts and the internet).

“Formative tests, available three times a year, will give feedback to students and teachers before the summative test is taken in grade 11.”

The Smarter Balanced Consortium has in fact chosen some of our schools to be part of the piloting of these new assessments. The testing window will be from March 6 – 21, 2013. Dublin Elementary will be beta testing 5th grade math, Fallon Middle School 8th grade math, and Valley High School 10th grade math as well as 11th grade English.

For further information on the Common Core Standards visit: www.corestandards.org.

To view samples of testing items and more standards visit: www.smarterbalance.org.

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