Changing standards: A look ahead at student learning
By TIM HORAN
Abilene school principals were given the mind-numbing task of reporting on College and Career Ready Standards, commonly called Common Core Standards, to the USD 435 Board of Education.
At the end of the presentation, those standards were approved unanimously by the board at its regularly scheduled meeting Monday night. Abilene schools have until the 2014-2015 school year when new testing standards start.
“We can use Common Core and College and Career Ready interchangeably but the state wants us to start looking at it as College and Career Ready,” said Ben Smith, principal at Abilene High School.
The concept is just what the name implies: getting high school students ready for colleges and careers.
“Basically, a group of governors got together and tried to address the issue that colleges were seeing the number of remedial classes they had to put their freshmen in, just to get them caught up to basic college standards,” Smith said.
“For many years, the gap that has been developing in student proficiency when they get out of high school has been widening from what the college expectation is for entry level capability.
“So the governors of 45 states got together and the Common Core is the ultimate way to address this,” he added. “Basically it is an uptake in the standards to get high schools across the country up to the incoming level where freshmen are expected to be across the country.”
“With No Child Left Behind, schools got away from the problem-solving model to just knowing the knowledge,” said Tom Schwartz, McKinley principal. “Students were asked a question from a multiple-choice test and they just had to answer the question.
“What Common Core, or College and Career Ready standards, are going to do is go back to where the kids are going to be using their problem-solving abilities, their creativity, their critical thinking skills to actually explain how they get the answer, which is completely different than what we have been doing up to this time which all of the educators knew we should be doing when we were going through this process for 10 years.
“This is going to be the best thing for kids because it is going to allow them to, again, explain. For many years we talked about how the United States was ahead because of their creativity and problem-solving skills. That’s what I hope we’re getting back to,” he said.
“No longer is it just good enough for the kids to have the knowledge. They have to explain and show what they are going to do with that and, of course, it starts at the kindergarten level,” he said.
“Problem-solving and critical thinking is one of the bigger themes that come out (of Common Core),” said Greg Heinrichs, Kennedy principal. “A second thing is writing, not just in a traditional writing class that we all experienced when we were going through school. Writing in math class, writing in reading class and writing in social studies and science. The importance in writing and being able to communicate what we know on paper, that’s what we’re going to. Businesses and employers talk about the ability to write.”
“Abilene, which is piloting its iPad program, is fortunate because of the technology that is in place,” said Chris Cooper, Garfield principal.
“The new writing assessment next year will be online,” he added. “It’s the medium of writing. We will have, obviously, paper and pencil writing but kids have to learn how to develop their thoughts in this digital media, how to a rewrite, to do a final draft and not just sit down and type out the final copy like we used to do in typing class.
“I think the fundamental shift, as I really think about it, is we’re asking kids now to start thinking about their thinking and to think about their learning and to be able to write about it to others.
“We’ve become very efficient at getting kids to do what they are asked, to do what they are told, to learn what they are told to learn and then reproduce it and tell us back what they have learned. Telling someone back what you have learned is totally different then telling how you got to that point,” he said.
“In some ways, it is going to make things messy, because critical thinkers ask tough questions. If we are really going to teach kids to be critical thinkers and to question their learning, they are going to question us which is going to be exciting, actually.”
Interim Superintendent Denise Guy said the nice thing about the College and Career Ready Standards is that it allows for the state and the school districts to add some things for themselves. Kansas has continued to maintain the six-trait writing skills that will be in the model used for our writing and the rubrics Abilene will continue to score the writing. It is not a Common Core feature but Kansas wants to keep that, she said.
Ron Wilson, Middle School principal, said some grade levels have already implemented College and Career Ready Standards.
“It will be fully implemented next year,” he said. “It’s kind of an exiting time. Things are definitely changing.”
Wilson said new testing will start for the 2014-2015 school year. Guy said that because Kansas received a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind laws, school districts can proceed with the new standards but will be taking the same old tests for two years.
“We don’t know what it will look like,” Wilson said of the new testing assessments.
One example given was: Five swimmers are finishing a race. The times were all posted in hundreds of a second. The old test would ask how the swimmers finished. The new test will ask how the outcome of the race would be different if the times were rounded up to the nearest second. Students need to understand not just the time, but the rounding up process and that there would be more ties.
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