The National Common Core academic standards are being rolled out into classes in 45 states across the nation, and with the new standards come more rigorous lessons to better prepare students for life beyond high school.
The Common Core standards are affecting every school system in Georgia, and Gayland Cooper, superintendent for Rome City Schools, said his system is adapting to the changes beautifully.
Moving away from the Georgia Performance Standards, which have been in place since 2005, the standards for math are being rolled out in kindergarten through ninth grade.
New standards for reading and English-Language Arts are being implemented in kindergarten through 12th grade, and content literacy standards are being introduced in science, social studies and Career, Technical and Agricultural Education courses in grades six through 12. Eventually, the math standards will be phased into the high school as well, said Cooper.
What’s great about this new academic approach, apart from the fact that the studies are more rigorous, is that most students in the country will be on the same page, Cooper said.
“If a child moved to Birmingham from Rome, the content standards will be the same,” he said. “The pacing may be a touch off from state to state, but the content standards will be the same.”
Cooper said Rome City Schools teachers have been preparing for the Common Core curriculum since last spring.
The Georgia Department of Education developed units for schools that they could use if they wanted, but Rome took it a step further and developed their own units.
“Professional learning is key to being able to deliver a more rigorous curriculum,” Cooper said. “Our teachers need to know what the standards are and have units developed around those standards where girls and boys will be engaged in that learning and enjoy the learning,” said Cooper.
Before city schools were in session, the instructional units were in place to support the Common Core standards for the first nine weeks, and the units are currently being formulated for the second nine weeks, Cooper said.
The new academic standards are supported by the units, which are the frameworks for the lessons students are taught, said Debbie Downer, director of curriculum and professional learning for the Rome system. The units suggest activities and resources used to teach the standards.
“After this year, we’ll tweak them as needed, but we’ll have our units in place for the Common Core,” Cooper said.
So, what’s different?
The biggest difference between the National Common Core standards and the Georgia Performance Standards is the level at which students are expected to read and understand has increased in every grade level, Cooper said.
“What we might have been doing in eighth grade as far as text complexity, now might look more like ninth- or 10th-grade level,” Cooper said.
The goal is that by the time students graduate from high school, they will be able to read and understand at college level. The goal is to ensure students will not require any level of remediation in math or English when they enter college.
The introduction of the content literacy standards is intended to help build students’ reading comprehension.
“Instead of being lecture oriented, the content literacy standards in science and social studies will get the students involved in more investigative research to develop their writing skills,” Cooper said.
By the time students take college sciences, they’ll be able to write about what they are studying in a well-versed manner. Ideally, they won’t need any briefing from college professors about how to write a college-level biology paper.
“We know that if a child can read and comprehend well, it’s going to translate into their more successful social studies and science comprehension as well,” Cooper said. “If they can’t read and write well, it isn’t just going to hurt them in English, it’s going to really kill them in science.”
Cooper gave an example of a content literacy standard for a biology class. A specific standard may be to understand photosynthesis, the process by which plants make their own energy, but a content literacy standard may be to use the theory and compare it to how animals acquire their energy. It’s a more investigative and research-based approach than in the past, and students can start immersing their literacy skills into different academic contexts.
Goodbye CRCT, hello PARCC
Because national standards are rapidly being introduced, a national assessment is needed in order to evaluate students’ progress. That’s where PARCC comes in.
According to the website, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is a consortium of states working together to develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math anchored in what it takes to be prepared for college and/or the workforce. PARCC (pronounced like “park”) should be ready for states to implement in the 2014-2015 school year.
“Information is still unfolding about the actual assessment,” said Downer. “It will be very different from the CRCT.”
Downer said there will be more constructive response questions, and not just multiple choice. There will be more assessment of a higher order in critical thinking skills. For the writing portion, students will be given a passage to read, and then they have to construct an argument and provide supporting evidence from the text.
Where the CRCT measured minimal knowledge criteria for success in schools, the PARCC will measure how students are doing on a national level.
“We should be able to compare how we’re doing to other communities, states and school districts,” Cooper said. “If they’re all using PARCC, it’s going to be very neat to be able to pick up an assessment and compare them to students in New York or Vermont or Tennessee or Kentucky.”
Eventually, the CRCT will be phased out, Cooper said, adding that he hopes the state will be able to afford the PARCC assessment when the time comes.
“Ideally, if you’re going to adopt a new curriculum, it’s incumbent on the state board and the government to fund the assessment piece, otherwise you’re driving in the dark without headlights,” he said.