Work on Common Core in JPS is under wayIt’s called Common Core and at some point most students in the nation will be held to the rigorous educational standards it mandates. When No Child Left Behind became law in 2001 states were able to draw up their own education standards, according to Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Bob Toso.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
It’s called Common Core and at some point most students in the nation will be held to the rigorous educational standards it mandates.
When No Child Left Behind became law in 2001 states were able to draw up their own education standards, according to Jamestown Public Schools Superintendent Bob Toso.
A need to have consistent educational standards across the country after more than a decade of NCLB is what inspired Common Core, he said. It’s a national, voluntary effort to build on generations of different educational standards to define a new set for the nation.
The effort is coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
“The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers,” according to the Common Core website.
It’s Common Core because all states involved will be held to the same academic standards, said Greg Gallagher, director of standards and achievement for North Dakota Department of Public Instruction.
“Now for the first time we’re seeing the states work together collaboratively based on good research and international benchmarks,” Gallagher said.
The Common Core standards were approved by the Dr. Wayne Sanstead, state superintendent, last June. Since then they have been approved into a state document of Common Core standards with commentary.
Five states, Minnesota, Texas, Virginia, Alaska and Nebraska; plus three territories, Puerto Rico, the American Samoa Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands; have yet to adopt Common Core.
In North Dakota, the state assessment in fall 2014 will be tied to the Common Core education standards.
“The Common Core is a significant change for what’s required for students,” Toso said. “There was the desire from state superintendents across the country to give teachers the time to adjust.”
A proactive approach
Four Jamestown Public Schools teachers have had about eight meetings over the past year in Bismarck with other educators to prepare for the change in standards.
The group of close to 100 educators from across the state has met with Department of Public Instruction officials, stakeholder groups, universities and groups of educational consultants to help ease the transition.
“There are all kinds of resources that teachers, like myself, have been brought together to help put together,” said Shelly Moltzen, chair of the Jamestown High School English department.
The group wants to create an online database of resources for teachers to help adjust. Some of those resources include lesson plans, videos, transition documents and strategies.
“It’s been kind of exciting as we’ve been down there,” Moltzen said. “We know other states have been looking at the things we’ve been creating and putting them on their own website, so that’s been kind of fun to see other people looking at us.”
Groups like this across the country share resources for Common Core transitions, Gallagher said.
In the next few weeks the four teachers who have met other educators in Bismarck will meet with the South East Education Cooperative for more information and tools to help the transition.
“After talking to teachers across the state I feel that Jamestown is ahead of the movement in many respects,” said Lori Hare, a math coach and third-grade math teacher at Gussner Elementary School.
Books that meet Common Core standards have already been purchased for elementary schools. But ultimately the success of the new standards lies in teachers’ hands, Toso said.
“Textbooks should not drive what’s being taught,” he said. “It should be the teachers’ knowledge of the standards that drives what’s going on in the classroom.”
Changes on the horizon
Teachers have started this work so early because curriculum for all grade levels will be revamped to the Common Core standards, and some levels will start in the next school year.
Common Core requires the state to have educational standards but each district must create its own curriculum.
Elementary math is one of those curriculum areas that will use Common Core standards.
“A lot of math is normally taught at a later grade, and it’ll be moved down to a younger grade,” said Kim Carpenter, JHS math department chair.
For example, linear functions in algebra are normally taught to freshmen. With Common Core, eighth-graders will be expected to master that subject, Carpenter said.
The same can be said for quadratic functions, which normally would be taught to juniors. Freshman will be expected to learn quadratic functions earlier, she said.
Linear functions refer to equations with a single variable, such as y=5x+5. Quadratic functions feature a variable that is increased by an exponent, such as y=x2-5.
“What I’m seeing as the biggest challenge right now is kids, when they come to me, they need to be at the level so I can teach them what they’re supposed to be learning,” Carpenter said.
The need for student improvement at a younger age is evident as the math curriculum will undergo a facelift to match the new educational standards.
“It’s not going to be 20 problems on a page anymore,” Hare said. “It’s more about a deeper understanding of a concept and being able to apply that concept to a situation, rather than just spit out an algorithm.”
Algebra concepts will also be more relevant at young elementary grade levels, she said.
Tricia Gaffaney, another math coach and third-grade math teacher, has also attended the meetings in Bismarck.
Changes to language arts won’t be as noticeable. But at the high-school level Moltzen said students will take a different approach to how they complete coursework.
“Many of the things that we’ve been teaching in ninth and 10th grade are expected to be mastered at the eighth grade level,” she said. “We’re working with them on more complex texts.”
Arguments, no longer considered persuasion, will require students to take a more in-depth approach to make their points, with independent claims.
“That text complexity kids need for the world of work has gotten harder and more technical,” Moltzen said. “So there’s a real divide there to get kids ready for that piece of work and that reading level.”
The ultimate goal is to have one definition for all states on what proficiency means, Gallagher said.
Teachers across the state will have time in the next two school years to work the new standards into their curriculums, which is one of the reasons why the new standards won’t go into effect until then.
The other side of the coin is DPI is still contracted until 2014 for state assessment tests.
The answer to what would happen if state assessment scores in 2014 are poor is unknown.
NCLB is set to expire but a new education bill hasn’t passed yet. Also North Dakota could file for a NCLB waiver as early as September, Toso said. Both those could change the outcome of what could happen after the fall 2014 tests are scored.
Toso still thinks there’s plenty of time left for educators to adjust their lesson plans and for more training.
He said as long as JPS continues to have dedicated teachers in classrooms, administration running schools and parents involved with education, education here will be above reproach.
“If you have those three things you’re going to have a strong education system regardless of what the standards are,” he said.
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org