“Our students (need) to be college and career ready in a global economy,” said Scotts Valley Unified School District Superintendent Penny Weaver. “To prepare them, it (is) advantageous for us to have some core standards that we all work toward.”
The Common Core focuses on math and language arts and sets specific goals for each grade level. The concept ensures that students in kindergarten through 12th grade who move between states are held to the same expectations, wherever they end up.
The first step for both the Scotts Valley and San Lorenzo Valley Unified School Districts is to pilot new assessments. These new tests are administered entirely on the computer. “We’re just dipping our toes in, but it’s coming fast,” said Michelle Stewart, principal of Vine Hill Elementary School .
“(Third and fourth grade students) at Vine Hill took an early version of the language arts test. (It) was really good for us—we realized we need to work on our technology skills.”
San Lorenzo Valley Middle School principal Jeff Calden agreed.
“A lot of kids don’t come with those computer skills,” Calden said. “You have to teach them.”
But in other ways, the results of the pilot tests have been positive.
“What we understand in the analysis of what we’re doing with California Standards and the Common Core is that we’re about 86 percent aligned,” says Weaver. Scotts Valley ’s district has designed a three year professional development plan to implement the standards. Currently the district is working in math to understand how each school needs to reconfigure its curriculum.
“What’s coming easily is everyone’s interest and capacity for change — principals, directors, teachers, parents. The difficult part is finding the time to collaborate together and make sure we’re all moving at the same rate,” Weaver said. “But our motivation? That’s not a challenge. We’re there.”
The state provides support in various capacities to facilitate the transition. More than $1.25 billion in one-time educational funding has been allocated to districts statewide for updating technology equipment and hiring professional developers. Both Scotts Valley and SLV expect a piece of the pie, but don’t yet know when the money will arrive.
In the meantime, educators and school administrators can view online modules and extensive video tutorials that explain the new standards and how to implement them.
What are the changes? The major shift from California Standards to the Common Core involves depth of learning goals.
“It’s really an effort to approach higher levels of thinking,” Weaver said.
For example, in the language arts program, the Common Core hopes to teach students how to analyze evidence from different sources and synthesize information into an argument.
“In a traditional classroom setting, we see rows of desks and the teacher is the only one talking,” Weaver said. “In the twenty-first century classroom engaging in the common core, it’s nothing like that. It’s all about collaboration, critical thinking, communication, creativity. We (are) members of a learning team, and we need to be able to converse, ask and answer questions, and present information in new ways.”
Even the new tests, which will replace Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) by the 2014-2015 school year, demonstrate a new dedication to complexity of understanding.
The tests will look and feel different to students.
“The questions have a depth that you can’t (get) with bubbling,” SLV’s Calden said. “There’s writing, there are math problems that are multi-step, there are audio things, there are video pieces—a lot of interactive things on the screen with moving things from here to there. It’s different, a much better assessment of knowledge.”
Students and parents should expect a slow and steady progression of transitions.
“It’s really going to require a lot of patience,” said Vine Hill’s Stewart. “We’re going to have to change the curriculum, the way we teach, report cards, everything. We want it to change tomorrow, and it can’t. That said, I’m excited about where education is going. It’s going to take a lot of focus and energy, but I think we’ve got it.”
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