Monday, Waterford Public Schools' two highest-ranking administrators gave a presentation on the new "Common Core Standards" that will shape the curriculums of all American public schools in the near future - including Waterfords'.
The federal government is mandating all school districts in the country adopt their curriculums to meet standards by the 2014-15 school year, Superintendent Jerome Belair and Assistant Superintendent Craig Powers said. Belair said Waterford has already begun this transition, and he praised the national movement.
“The biggest difference is now this is an international benchmark, it is going to be aligned with what all the other countries are testing,” Belair said. “I think it is a real positive.”
The Board of Education had both praise and concerns for the federal initiative. Several members praised parts of the program, although board member Tim Egan questioned if it was idealistic, and if getting every student to hit those standards is really possible.
“I believe it is a great new focus,” Egan said. “But it presupposes that we have a very engaged, self-reliant student.”
Explaining the Common Core
The federal government is mandating that all public school districts in the country adopt the common core standards by the 2013-14 school year. The idea of the common core is to cover less topics than what schools traditionally covered before, but to go into further detail on those select topics, Belair explained.
“It is about narrowing the focus and drilling deeper,” he said. “So the students walk away with a very solid conceptual understanding of the material.”
States will give federally-approved standardized tests, instead of creating their own tests as they do now, Powers explained. Those tests will allow Waterford to be able to compare itself to not just other districts in the state, but other districts in the country and even in other countries, Powers said.
“We will be able to have a broader perspective than ever before,” he said.
The idea of the common core is to make all students – with an emphasis on all – be college and career ready when they graduate high school, Belair said. By having a national tests and national standards, it will allow for more centralization of dollars and resources and therefore more dollars and resources, he said.
There were several specifics the two men highlighted about the new program. They were:
- There will be a greater focus on non-fiction reading in schools, even in the elementary schools. The idea is a 50/50 split of non-fiction reading to fiction reading in elementary schools, 55-45 split of non-fiction to fiction in middle school and a 70-30 split of non-fiction to fiction in the high school.
- Before, writing was taught in stages as students’ age: first they learned narrative writing, then writing to inform and explain, then persuasive. Now, students will learn all three together, with a gradual focus away from narrative and more to persuasive and writing to inform and explain.
- A focus on literacy will be extended to all subjects, including subjects like math and science. The idea is that reading, writing, speaking, listening and language will be a shared responsibility by all subjects.
- In math, there are steps students should hit by each grade level. Also, there will be more of a focus on real-life applications.
- All standardized tests will be taken online. Instead of giving a test to 10th graders, like Connecticut schools do now with the CAPT test, 11th graders will be tested.
Several Board of Education members praised the new standards, although some did raise some concerns. Board member John Taglianetti asked if there was data to prove that this new focus will make students more prepared after graduation and if school districts will have much flexibility under the federal system.
Belair answered that the common core standards were developed with research from employers on what they wanted in students. He said there is flexibility in that there are no universal curriculums or texts that must be used by all districts.
Egan, who is a teacher, said he liked the standards but questioned the practicality of them. He asked if this sudden shift would be hard on older students. He also said the standards assume an independent student who is willing to do work outside the classroom, and that isn’t always the case.
Belair said Waterford has adopted new intervention programs to help the students Egan was referring too. He also said that if schools don’t fix those problems, they will not be fixed.
“If (schools) aren’t doing it, who will do it?” Belair said. “As a country, we need to step up to the plate on this.”