Last Tuesday parents were invited to an information night at Marina Village Middle School to learn more about the imminent shift to Common Core curriculum and how to best help their children at home. Nancy Brownell, senior fellow at the California State Board of Education and a former Rescue School District board member, led the discussion.
The shift to Common Core is predominantly for college and career readiness, said Brownell, alluding to the fact that American school children have by and large fallen behind their global peers. Instead of rote memorization and recall, students will be taught to think critically, she said. Where a breadth of material was covered in the old way of teaching, Common Core will shift to in-depth learning in fewer topics. In education circles, this method has been referred to through the years as “hole posting” through fewer materials versus “rock skipping” lightly across more coursework.
English/language arts and math will be the core subjects K-12 students will predominantly shift toward in this new way of learning. Brownell said there will be an equal emphasis on reading as much non-fiction as fiction in language arts and students will be asked to critically think about what they’ve read. Instead of who is the main character kind of questions, the Common Core literature issued states students will be asked to use evidence from their reading to support arguments.
“We are moving away from level one depth of knowledge (DOK) questions on a four-point scale, to asking more level three and four DOK questions,” said Brownell. According to Common Core literature a level one question might ask, recall elements and details of story structure, such as sequence of events, character, plot and setting whereas a level four DOK might ask, determine the author’s purpose and describe how it affects the interpretation of a reading selection.
Parents can help by continuing this practice at home, said Brownell. For a parent parallel question, Brownell said where the old way of testing might have asked students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The new mode will ask students to analyze the pledge’s meaning.
In math, parents can expect their students to “learn to use math in the real world,” according to Common Core state standards and they will “build skills across grade levels.” Parents can help by talking about math when it comes in daily activities, for instance when cooking or making change.
Brownell said younger students are at an advantage because they will learn this way from the start.
Those in attendance were mostly positive about the deeper thinking aspect of Common Core standards. One parent expressed concern that students with lower comprehension skills might struggle. Brownell said differentiating between children and their various skill levels is the beauty of this new way of teaching and learning.
Another parent asked about equity, teacher accountability and what happens if one student is taught with the Common Core standards in mind while another is not. “Teachers in this district are really good about learning from one another,” said Brownell. Marina Village Middle School principal George Tapanes and Lake Forest Elementary principal Bruce Peters said early release Mondays are for this sort of teacher collaboration.
The STAR test reflects the “old way of learning and the old standards,” said Brownell, and has been abandoned. There will be no standardized test given to California public school students this spring.
“Some parents feel edgy about that,” said Brownell. “They like that piece of paper. We’re asking for your patience.”
This is the pilot year when kinks are being worked out with the new mode of teaching, learning and assessing, said Brownell, and before Common Core standards are fully implemented to California public school children next fall. By spring 2015 the federally funded Smarter Balanced Test will be administered in lieu of the STAR test to students in third through 12th grades.
The Smarter Balanced test will be given via computer. “It’s a computer adaptive system much like gaming,” said Brownell. “Students will go up a level if they answer questions easily and they’ll move down a level if not. This allows us to better address the needs of all students. The Smarter Balanced test will not be timed and expectations of student performance are linked to international benchmarks.”
Though more critical, fuller answers are expected instead of multiple-choice answers, artificial intelligence will assess much of the test.
“A lot of teachers have been challenging students and raising the bar like this in their classrooms already,” said Brownell. “Now assessments will reflect that.”
To take a practice Smarter Balanced test visit smarterbalanced.org.