Schools to implement new standards
By REBECCA LEFTWICH
Georgia schools may find the transition to Common Core a bit easier than some of the 46 other states with whom it has partnered for the educational undertaking, as the state’s educators already have four years of performance-based standards experience.
Called a “common sense next step” by the Georgia Board of Education, Common Core is a set of uniform academic standards for grades K-12 in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics with additional science, history/ social studies and technical subject literacy standards for grades 6-12.
The implementation year for math and ELA Common Core is 2012-13, and Coweta County School System Mathematics Content Specialist Lynn Skinner and Curriculum Director Karen Barker updated the Coweta County Board of Education at its June 12 meeting. Skinner is heading the math portion of implementation and Barker the ELA. While they provided information and fielded questions from board members, Barker emphasized that full integration of CCGPS – “working out the kinks” – will require time.
“We’re moving toward a more realistic, applicable, functional approach,” Barker said, noting the local school system plans eventually to have website resources including webinars available to parents. “But it’s a work in progress. It’s the first year for all the teachers to learn it, too. The process of building resources will take a couple of years. Meanwhile, we’re still accessible – parents can get help with things to do at home by calling or emailing.”
Parent involvement activities at schools will be ongoing, Barker said, and as Georgia Performance Standards merge with Common Core to become CCGPS, Coweta also plans to begin working toward goals it has set for K-12 literacy, including a literacy website currently in development.
“It’s extremely important for the kids to understand the connections,” Barker said. “Over the past few years, we’ve worked hard to teach them not only the subject matter, but how they will use it in their regular lives. Common Core is asking us to have students examine not only the what, but the why and the how.”
To that end, CCGPS assessments will involve more than multiple choice.
“Students will not only have the opportunity to choose the right answer, but also an open-ended response explaining their answers,” Barker said.
Expanded assessment experience has the potential to help college-bound students improve ACT and SAT scores as well as practical preparation for career-ready students.
“I think that’s a very good thing,” Barker said.
From national studies, the Coweta school system has identified and incorporated into its K-12 literacy plan five major components of strong reading: phonics, phonemic awareness, comprehension, fluency and vocabulary. State Common Core standards encourage school districts to bring in more nonfiction and more complex fiction texts, setting aside readers in favor of real books.
“We need to prepare children for life and career and also college,” Barker said. “The fact is, they’re not going to read a 40-page non-fiction text in real life. They’re going to read a manual that teaches them to use their Blu-Ray player. We’re trying to make sure we’re hitting all aspects using a vast array of texts.”
Textbooks aligned to Common Core standards are on the wish list for some high school mathematics teachers, who have spent four years working to implement Georgia Performance Standards.
“We had textbooks, but they were not fully aligned to GPS and teachers had to do a lot of work to align them,” Skinner said. “That’s the reason that teachers were hoping there would be a textbook.’”
Common Core is another big switch in the order concepts are taught and how they are taught, so teachers are looking again at having to create a lot of materials themselves, particularly at the high school level, she said. “They’ve just finished four years of implementation and refining, and they very clearly remember all the hard work of going from Quality Core Curriculum to GPS,” Skinner told the school board.
GPS integrated math – in which algebra, statistics and geometry concepts are interwoven in a Math 1, Math II, Math III and Math IV high school sequence – has some similarities to the Common Core pathway, but Common Core takes a different approach in that concepts will be presented as units within each year’s study. The required high school course sequence under Common Core will be coordinate algebra, analytic geometry and advanced algebra.
“Students will still have to have a fourth math, but they will have some options,” Skinner said.
As for teachers, their first order of business will be to address the transition standards between GPS and Common Core to ensure no learning gaps exist.
“Teachers will be pre-assessing their students to determine what they already know so they can spend time on new concepts they are required to teach,” Skinner said.
Of high importance to Skinner is vetting and putting resources within easy reach so – despite a lack of textbooks aligned with Common Core standards – classroom implementation goes as smoothly as possible for teachers and students alike.
“There are other states that already have started implementing Common Core, so what we have is some documents that have links to resources that would support learning,” Skinner said, adding that a Common Core mathematics resource intranet is in development so those resources will be organized and easily accessible to teachers. In addition, professional learning opportunities are being planned in the form of on-site training, podcasts Eluminate sessions and even “blue book” courses in which teachers can earn Professional Learning Units (PLU).
“What I want to do is make sure teachers won’t have to go out and find or create a lot of extra resources,” Skinner said. “It is a process. Anytime you have a change there is a learning curve, but we have really excellent teachers here who are very dedicated and professional. They want to do what is expected of them and what the students need, but they will require ongoing support.”
Skinner said Common Core is a good curriculum with the potential for “a lot of impact.”
“We feel like we’re going to be where we need to be,” she said.