During the next school year, the Peninsula School District will begin a two-year implementation of the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts. The standards are mandated by the state, and the district is in its third year of making the transition.
The common core is a collaboration between states to form universal standards for achievement and learning expectations. The new assessments that correspond to the common core will be implemented during the 2014-15 school year.
Bridgit Reichel, an instructional facilitator with the school district, is tasked with helping and supporting teachers during the transition. She said the new standards are necessary for students to better prepare for college and the workforce.
“The main thing that it’s about is preparing students for college and career readiness, so that is the main, over-arching goal,” she said. “It’s also beneficial to the students, because, if a student lives in Washington, and then they move to, say, Colorado, they could be in totally different places in where they’re at as far as skills. That was the main impetus behind forming the common core standards is to provide that equity across the nation so that we’re all working on the same page, and we’re all getting our kids ready for college and career at appropriate levels.”
Reichel said the standards also are imperative to give students an edge in a competitive, hyper-connected global economy.
“Also, that we’re internationally competitive,” she said. “That way, across our nation, all of our kids will be getting really high-quality education and be taught high skills that will make them nationally and internationally competitive.”
Reichel said the new standards will elevate the expectations of students’ learning but also will be more focused.
“One (main difference) is focus,” she said. “We had a very large amount of standards in the past. So kids were basically getting a little bit of instruction on a lot of things. It was that whole concept of, ‘A mile wide and an inch deep,’ so they were getting exposed to a lot of things, but not at a very deep level.
“With the common core, there’s a much greater focus, and a much deeper focus to focus on what’s truly important, achieving that deep learning within those skills and standards.”
Reichel said the standards also are designed to be more consistent. They’re more comprehensive with concepts that build on each other, rather than being acknowledged once and never used again, she said.
“In the past, with our state standards, the standards were much more isolated,” Reichel said. “But now, they have whole progression documents that show how the standards progress all the way form kindergarten to 12th grade. They really build upon each other, and that’s another main difference.”
Some of the main changes that will be seen in the classroom include emphasis in reading more informational and complex texts, writing to justify thinking, and more problem-solving and problem-based learning.
“With problem solving with the common core, they really focus on — because they are preparing students for college and career readiness — so their emphasis is much more on real-world applications involved with problem solving,” Reichel said.
The standards focus primarily on math and English, subjects that provide the skills and fundamental concepts that carry over to other subjects, she said.
“Those are the main focus, but then, within those, at the secondary level, there are also content literacy standards, where those same reading and writing standards would also be taught in some of the other content areas, such as social studies and science,” Reichel said. “Those are the foundational skills that students need to have in order to succeed in every area, no matter what they’re doing.”
Reichel emphasized the standards do not mandate instructional materials, teaching practices or intervention methods.
“I think there’s a fear that the art of teaching might be taken away, and that’s not true,” she said. “From year to year, your teaching style could be different depending on what the needs of your kids are. Teachers are always changing no matter what the standards are, just because that’s what a good teacher does to meet the needs of the kids.
“I think with these new standards, there’s a misconception out there that teachers are going to totally change what they’ve done in the past, and that’s not totally true — they would automatically change and adjust,” she added. “But with the new standards, their focus will be different.”
Assistant Superintendent Claudia Thompson said she thinks the new standards will help students in the long run.
“We’ve gone through standards changes before,” she said. “Each time we do, things get more rigorous for our kids, so it’s just another change, and it will ultimately be a great benefit to our kids.”