Common Core means excitement, anxiety in schools

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By Beth Waldon
Mason Times staff writer

Students in Mason Public Schools will be assessed based on the Common Core in the spring of 2015.

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The Common Core has been adopted by most states in the U.S.
http://www.corestandards.org/standards-in-your-state/

The state of Michigan adopted the Common Core in 2010. According to the Michigan Department of Education, the Common Core standards are state standards that provide a consistent set of career and college-readiness expectations for students across the country. Since then, Mason Public schools “have prepared and are continuing to prepare students based on the Common Core standards,” said Executive Director of Curriculum Chris Kamenski.

According to Kamenski, Mason Public Schools partnered with East Lansing Public Schools in January and started a process of rewriting the mathematics program so that it is compatible with the Common Core.

“We’re taking everyday math and we’re cutting it apart to line up with the common core,” Kamenski said. Kamenski added that now, currency is taught in kindergarten, but at that age, students are too young to fully grasp the concept. “Kindergarteners can understand what a quarter is, but counting money is too difficult,” Kamenski said. The school system decided to follow the common core and postpone the currency lesson until the second grade.

With that being said, Jeri Loomis, a first-grade teacher at North Aurelius Elementary School, said that students are still introduced to currency and given a base foundation in earlier grades, so even if they don’t master the concept right away, they’re prepared for the actual lesson in the second grade.

The Common Core is incorporating a lot of critical thinking in the classroom, and Loomis said that students must have a deeper understanding of how to do an activity. “Instead of asking what 3+3 is, we ask, can you explain to me why 3+3 is 6,” she said.

To ensure that students fully understand a topic, Loomis said that she asks students how comfortable they are with the concept, and if they could teach someone at home what they just learned.

According to Kamenski, there are two potential Common Core assessments that students may take in spring of 2015: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC). Kamenski said the Smarter Balanced Assessment is more suitable for Mason Public Schools rather than the current Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP).

Bill DiSessa, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, said that the state is still waiting for approval of the Smarter Balanced Assessment from the Michigan Education House Committee. “The MEAP test has been around for 40 years, so we’re ready to move forward with a higher level of testing that is aligned with the Common Core,” DiSessa said.

DiSessa added that the Smarter Balanced Assessment is not only aligned with the Common Core, but this assessment also offers an online option. If a student answers a question correctly, the online portion of the assessment will adapt to the student’s level, so until the student answers a question incorrectly, the system will make each following question more challenging.

Below is an illustration created by Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond who specializes in teacher education and assessment. The graphic describes different assessments, including Common Core State Standard (CCSS) tests such as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the Smarter Balanced Assessment, in the order of their difficulty.

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The Smarter Balanced Assessment, shown as SBAC in the illustration above, and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, shown as PARCC, are more rigorous than traditional testing.

In preparation for the common core assessment, Loomis said reading specialists will provide literacy aids to students who struggle with reading.

Kamenski added that the specialists help students develop critical reading skills because now, during reading comprehension examinations, students are not only asked to answer questions, but to also find in the text where they found their answers. “This is hard for the kids because they want to see an answer, they don’t want to think about it,” Loomis said.

Loomis added that she has taught her students how to synthesize and summarize, so that they know what it means to look closely at the text and see what the author is trying to convey. Loomis added that this week, she is teaching students how to infer. “I would’ve never taught a first-grader the word inferring four years ago,” she said.

Kamenski said that when it comes to testing, technology is a concern because most assessments are given on a computer, which means students must be tech savvy.

“The school system needs to make sure that students understand how to right click on a mouse or how to enter data into an excel spreadsheet,” Kamenski said. Kamenski added that with technology, the school system will need to make sure there are enough computers for the students’ use, and have a plan for the constant possibility of a computer crash in the middle of an assessment.

In a time of change and with the use of new technology, Amy Kelly, a math teacher at Mason High School, said that she is excited and terrified all at the same time,

“I’m excited about the new things we’re being able to offer kids access to that wouldn’t have access to before, but I’m terrified that the learning curve is so quick and we don’t have time in our educational system right now for me to be able to catch up to all of it,”

However, Loomis is comfortable with the constant change because she said, “that’s the life of a teacher, nothing is ever consistent.”

As for the high schoolers, Administrative Assistant to the Executive Director of Curriculum Diane Wilson said that 11th-graders are required to take the Michigan Merit Examination which is associated with the ACT and it is an assessment that measures progress. However, Kamenski added that in 2015, students will be assessed with the ACT Aspire, a digital assessment that gives teachers a better idea of where students need improvement.

Kelly said that since the ACT has become a statewide test for 11th and 12th graders, the school implemented an ACT prep class that covers math, science, English and writing.

Some schools, including Mason High School, are switching supplemental material to line up with the Common Core. Kelly said that the math department recently added a new textbook series called College Preparatory Mathematics.

“Our department looks at the Common Core as changing the focus from being able to be procedural mathematicians to being able to justify their mathematical statements, explain their mathematical ideas, defend what they’re thinking, and being able to show what they know in multiple ways,” Kelly said. “The new curriculum gives us even greater tools to be able to help our students make strides in those areas.”

When it comes to student growth, the school system has become more strict, “Part of my evaluation as a teacher is based on my students’ growth or lack thereof, so each teacher is responsible for making their own student growth goal and it has to be supported by data, and my evaluation and effectiveness as a teacher is based on that,” Kelly said.

Kamenski said that the school system is working with the state and they are in the process of choosing proper testing for ninth and 10th-graders. In the meantime, Kelly said those students are currently given an ACT prep exam.

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