FAIRFIELD — Classroom learning guidelines in California are getting a “rigorous” revamp in a bid to align educational standards with 44 other states, something many local educators describe as positive.
The Common Core State Standards, which guide teachers in math and English language arts, were adopted by California in 2010. The core standards, which are a voluntary adoption, are shared goals and expectations across the participating states concerning knowledge and skills children need at each grade level.
They are expected to be fully implemented, which includes a new assessment test to replace the Standardized Testing and Reporting assessment, by the 2014-15 school year. The new test is called Smarter Balanced, or SBAC, named after the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the state-led group that’s developing the assessment.
California is a governing state within the consortium.
The start date coincides with the end of the No Child Left Behind Adequate Yearly Progress goals that require all students to be on the “proficient” level by the end of the 2013-14 school year.
By 2014-15, all accountability measures will be tied to the Smarter Balanced assessments, said Mark Frazier, Vacaville School District’s chief academic officer.
The primary reason for the change is to better prepare children for success in college and careers in a global setting, said Sandy Jessop, director of district and school support for the Solano County Office of Education.
Curriculum changes include such things as an emphasis on nonfiction reading and grade-level shifts concerning various math subjects such as Algebra I, which under the new standards will be taught beginning in the eighth grade.
With the changes come growing pains. Current textbooks aren’t aligned with the new standards. Frazier said Vacaville spent more than $1 million for a new English language arts program three years ago for kindergarten through sixth grade. Curriculum to match the new standards isn’t developed yet and “there is no way (districts) can go out and buy brand new curriculum,” he said.
“We’ll have to adapt,” he said.
One of the changes is learning fractions in third grade instead of second grade, but the second-grade textbooks house the fraction lessons.
“We’ll have to be flexible,” he said.
The test is computer-based instead of paper and pencil. Local districts wonder about the logistics of testing an entire school using one computer lab with a varying number of computers.
“That’s going to be a big problem,” Frazier said.
Rollout has already begun. Some Solano County schools are taking part in Smarter Balanced pilot testing and some teachers are beginning to think about how they’re going to implement the new standards into their classroom.
“This is the first wave and change in the teaching profession (I’ve experienced),” said Heidi Studer, a teacher at Hemlock Elementary School in Vacaville, who has been teaching for nine years.
Her sixth-grade class recently took part in the pilot testing. She said she is already contemplating the changes she’s going to need to make in her teaching to reflect the new standards and assessment test.
“Teachers are going to have to change their practices,” she said.
The implementation of Common Core concepts gives rise to a higher level of thinking, she said.
“Kids are going to need to express themselves more . . . as opposed to choosing an answer,” she said.
The standards are designed to give children deeper critical-thinking concepts that relate classroom teachings to the real world. They encompass a wide variety of skills aside from critical thinking, such as problem-solving, communication, collaboration and writing. The new assessment test, which involves a lot more writing, creative thinking and problem-solving, will reflect the new standards.
“The Smart Balanced assessments give students an opportunity to express their levels of problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking,” Jessop said.
Frazier said the new standards are “the same key standards, but the rigor has changed.”
“You can trace progress,” he said. “The old standards were interspersed, not cohesive. It was like each grade level had a group of people working on the standards and didn’t talk to each other. Things just got plunked in.”
Not everyone is happy with the new standards. Adoption has created conversation for bloggers and columnists and spawned groups such as Utahns Against Common Core. Closer to home is the group Californians United Against Common Core. Its website calls the new program a “one size fits all” education, citing lower standards and the costs behind the change.
Only four states have not fully adopted the new standards: Alaska, Texas, Nebraska and Virginia. Minnesota adopted the standards in English language arts, but not in math.
“We believe that the standards we developed in Minnesota offer a more rigorous standard and are certified college- and career-ready by both our Minnesota State College system and the University of Minnesota,” said Charlene Briner, director of communication for the Minnesota Department of Education.
The states that adopted the standards had two choices for yearly assessments: Smarter Balanced or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
As the rollout continues, more districts will participate in pilot testing of the Smarter Balanced assessment test throughout May.
Cambridge and Scandia elementary schools are participating in the Travis School District, said Jim Bryan, the assistant superintendent for education services. In the Fairfield-Suisun School District, the Matt Garcia Learning Center already did some pilot testing. More testing will be done at David Weir, Cordelia Hills, Cleo Gordon, Laurel Creek and Nelda Mundy elementary schools, plus Rodriguez High School, said Sheila McCabe, the district’s director of secondary education.
“It’s a good step,” Frazier said. “They want to get our students to a different level of rigor.”
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.
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