We’re Changing What We Teach – Part One

On November 2nd, Education Week published a significant article regarding the transition to the Common Core State Standards and new more rigorous student assessments (click on the link to see sample assessment questions).  Results from new state tests in Kentucky—the first in the nation explicitly tied to the Common Core State Standards—show that the share of students scoring “proficient” or better in reading and math dropped by roughly A THIRD OR MORE in both elementary and middle school the first year the tests were given.

What you’re seeing in Kentucky is a predictor of what we’re expecting to see in Ohio as the assessments roll out next year, and the year after, according to the executive director of the Washington-based Council of Chief State School Officers, which spearheaded the common-core initiative along with the National Governors Association.  What you’re seeing in Kentucky is what we’re furiously striving to avoid in Worthington.

This school year we have begun our transition to the Common Core State Standards in both English/Language Arts and Math.  We’re working daily with teams of teachers to unpack the new standards, rewrite curriculum, evaluate and implement new materials (such as Stepping Stones Math for primary) and to write new common formative assessments.  In Worthington if our achievement were to drop by 30%, in most areas this would mean that only 55-65% of our students would meet proficiency.  The Ohio Department of Education described that “proficient” of the future would mean the “accelerated” and “advanced” of today.  Obviously only 55-65% of our students passing state exams in unacceptable in Worthington (or anywhere really).

As you investigate the new standards it is obvious that the Standards are not a curriculum. They are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Worthington teachers, principals, and central office staff  will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.  The Standards are designed to build upon the most advanced current thinking about preparing all students for success in college and their careers.

In English‐language arts, the Standards require certain critical content for all students, including: classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s Founding Documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare.  English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary non-fiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.

In Mathematics, the Standards lay a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student’s ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically.

The Standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness, not by piling topic upon topic, but by demanding that students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply their knowledge to situations, as college students and employees regularly do.  Thus, our focus must shift from covering a wide birth of our curriculum to making sure that students have a deep understanding of how to apply to the curriculum.  No longer will our curriculum be a “mile wide and an inch deep.”

This is a major shift in American education.  While we can probably all agree that this shift is needed and makes sense.  It will be harder for each of us to agree upon what will no longer be taught.  Which courses are obsolete?  What material within a course should be taught?  Is World History a full survey course or a Modern World History course?  Should mathematics be taught in isolated courses such as Algebra and Geometry or in an Integrated format?

The Common Core State Standards and the aligned PARCC Assessments are coming soon to Worthington.  We owe it to our students to double down our efforts to make certain we’re teaching the right standards and teaching them in new ways.  It won’t be easy, but drops in student achievement of 30% can’t happen.

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