Schools prepare to adopt nationwide standards
by Denise Ellen Rizzo
Jul 19, 2013 | 785 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Students in the Tracy area are joining classrooms across the country in a new method of learning that focuses on critical thinking rather than memorization.

The idea behind the new learning process, known as Common Core State Standards, is to create a national standardized testing method, according to Jane Steinkamp, assistant superintendent of educational services for San Joaquin County Office of Education.

It also makes it easier for a student to relocate to another state and not fall behind because of different standardized testing methods from state to state, she said.

Common Core was developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers in 2010.

The council is a nonpartisan, nationwide, nonprofit organization of public officials involved in elementary and secondary education across the nation.

So far, 49 states have agreed to use Common Core standards, including California, Steinkamp said.

Districts in the state must begin to implement the new standards for language arts and mathematics by the 2014-15 school year, she said.

A new learning experience

Steinkamp said comparing performance levels is difficult when assessments and expectations are different from district to district. She said that makes it hard to compare student achievement.

Students used to take the California Standardized Test before advancing to a new grade level. Under Common Core, students will participate in a new testing process called Smarter Balance.

Under the new teaching and testing process, students will use technology during examinations, such as iPads or tablets. There will be no more multiple-choice questions, as students will have to write essay answers to explain their thought process.

“It’s really cool,” Steinkamp said. “It’s taking instruction into a more integrated approach. What we really want is for kids to start thinking.”

Instead of teaching a lesson that is purely about mathematics or language arts, she said, teachers will have to integrate many subjects into one lesson.

“I think our kids are doing this in real life — on their own,” she said. “I think the difference is they aren’t tested this way. And when what kids do in real life comes together with how we test them in schools, I think we’ll see achievement rates soar though the roof.”

Steinkamp said Common Core will get students to think and use problem-solving skills to prepare them for college and career readiness.

Teachers have started taking training so they can begin to pass their new learning methods to their students.

“We want to touch the life of every teacher,” she said. “Provide what we know here and they can go back to campuses and spread that knowledge and build on it. By touching the life of every teacher, we touch the life of every child.”

Steinkamp said the county office of education has offered a variety of training sessions, so educators can inform their students and parents.

“The most important step to take right now is professional development,” she said. “If districts can send teachers to workshops we provide, we can all learn together and progress together on how to change teaching strategies.”

Mick Founts, superintendent of schools in San Joaquin County, said it can be difficult to define exactly how Common Core Standards and the Smarter Balance assessment test will shape the way a district integrates them into curriculum.

“Common Core really allows teachers to delve a lot deeper into curriculum, and the assessment piece along with it now allows students to express that deeper understanding,” he said. “I’m really excited that our teachers and administrators use instinctual creativity and spend more time on such areas as basic concepts to make sure students have a deeper understanding.”

Preparing for the future

Christina Orsi, curriculum coordinator for Jefferson School District, said the K-8 district started training teachers in 2012. But she said district leaders are waiting to buy new curriculum and technology.

“We see a lot of districts around us jumping and purchasing curriculum,” she said. “We feel we need to arm ourselves with information prior to making (technology) decisions.”

Orsi said the district has monitored the successes and failures of districts in New York and North Carolina — which have already started the new standards. Limited funding, she said, makes the right purchase critical.

“Technology is a huge piece with these standards,” she said. “We’re not committed to buying anything. They (students) will need tablet skills and keyboarding skills; not one product meets the needs.”

Instead of filling in an oval to choose a test answer, students will have to critically think out questions and analyze their answers by typing a response into a computer explaining their thought process.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “It seems like a daunting task, but at the end of the day, we will look at the skills with these new standards, and students will have the skills to put them in a good position to get ready for college and career.”

Teachers are expected to use the Common Core Standards in their classroom starting in 2014. Orsi said Jefferson officials are working to overcome challenges that include creating a new curriculum and rethinking the lesson process.

“We’re trying to take a proactive approach,” she said. “It’s a huge (educational) shift for our teachers.”

Eager to get started

Kirk Nicholas, superintendent of Lammersville Unified School District, wants to get Common Core implemented in the Mountain House district when this school year begins in August.

“It’s better for the kids,” he said. “Change is not always a bad thing, as long as it’s done thoughtfully.”

Nicholas, who was recently hired as superintendent, said the district wants to begin a five-year process to introduce the standards into the classrooms.

“The strategic plan will be brought to the (school) board in the late fall semester for approval,” he said. “Step 2 will be implementing it over the next four years, and at that point we’ll transition to Common Core in K-12.”

He said the district is reviewing programs, practices, procedures and policies to make sure they meet the long-term goals.

“It’s absolutely imperative that kids read and comprehend at the right time so they can start to learn to write well, and the same thing applies to math,” he said.

When it comes to new technology, Nicholas said “kids are amazing and very adaptable.”

“Give a 3- and 4-year-old an iPad and you do not have to tell them anything,” he said. “We’re getting feedback between district and site teams on the (needed) tools.”

In the planning stages

Sheila Harrison, assistant superintendent of Tracy Unified School District, recently said a team of administrators is being organized to oversee the implementation process.

She was unavailable this week to discuss details about the process.

  • Contact Denise Ellen Rizzo at 830-4225 or drizzo@tracypress.com.
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