The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

April 6, 2013

Area districts preparing Common Core standards for classrooms in 2014

JOPLIN, Mo. — Following years of behind-the-scenes action, schools across the Four-State Area continue to prep for the implementation of Common Core standards next year.

Common Core State Standards are a set of academic expectations designed to ensure that students are college- and career-ready upon graduation from high school. The standards outline the knowledge and skills each student should possess at the end of each grade. They focus primarily on English/language arts and math, but also call for literacy in other subjects, such as social studies, history, science and technical subjects.

Third-graders, for example, should understand that shapes in different categories (rhombuses, rectangles and others) may share attributes, such as having four sides, and that the shared attributes can define a larger category (quadrilaterals).

They also should be able to interpret products of whole numbers, such 5 times 7, as the total number of objects in 5 groups of 7 objects each.

Eighth-graders should be able to explain the function of gerunds, participles and infinitives in general and their function in particular sentences; form and use verbs in the active and passive voice; and use punctuation such as commas and dashes to indicate a pause or break.

The standards already have been adopted by 45 states, plus the District of Columbia and four territories. State boards of education in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma adopted them in 2010, and districts are preparing for their full implementation next year.

Local educators say the use of Common Core standards across most of the country will level the playing field among states.

Prior to Common Core, each state defined for itself how to comply with the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, which is the nation’s general education law. As a result, student learning expectations and assessment tests varied from state to state. Educators were often frustrated that states were compared and ranked against each other despite discrepancies in standards and testing.

“I think probably the big goal for the implementation of Common Core is just that there’s a clear set of goals and expectations that all students will have, no matter if they’re in Missouri or Arkansas or California,” said Todd McCrackin, superintendent of East Newton schools. “I would liken it to being able to compare apples to apples and oranges to oranges.”

‘Increase the rigor’

The standards are not federally mandated, which means districts will continue to develop their own curricula, and teachers will decide how to teach to the new standards.

“We at the local district (level) can determine our own curriculum,” Carthage Superintendent Blaine Henningsen said. “We can pick our own textbooks; we can choose our own teaching methods.”

Faculty and staff in most local districts have already spent countless hours in workshops and seminars to learn about the standards for the grade levels they teach, administrators said. Many teachers are now working on their curricula to ensure their students receive the instruction needed to reach the goals set by Common Core, said Terri Hart, director of curriculum, assessment and instruction for Joplin schools.

“We have to make a decision about what materials and instructional strategies and activities do we set up so students can reach the level of those performance targets,” Hart said. “That involves looking at what we do now and where there are some gaps, where there are some overlaps (and) what can we give up.”

Common Core standards are more rigorous than the standards currently in place in many states, said Jim Horton, executive director of the Webb City-based Southwest Center for Educational Excellence. They were developed based partly on expectations of students in other high-performing countries and research on what students should know and be able to do after high school.

“Kids are a lot more advanced at an earlier age than they were when I was in school, and I think we’ve got to challenge them, and one of the ways to do that is to increase the rigor,” Horton said. “Our job is to prepare students to be successful in their future life. The goal of Common Core is to provide them with a viable and rigorous curriculum so that if they are successful in our districts, they will be prepared to move on in the future, whether it means college, a trade school or life in general.”

College and beyond

Missouri education officials say about one-third of recent high school graduates in the state must take remedial classes to prepare for college-level coursework — a statistic they hope could be reduced with the Common Core standards, which are designed to prepare students for entry-level college courses.

Chris Nicastro, commissioner of education, said the standards clearly outline academic expectations.

“Students will know well ahead of high school graduation what knowledge and skills they will need to be successful, whether they elect to go on to college or other postsecondary training, or join the work force,” she said. “The standards are relevant, attainable and based on practical, real-world learning goals.”

David Russell, commissioner of higher education, said the standards will also help make Missouri students competitive in a global economy.

“The standards are essential if we are to increase the number of Missourians with a college degree, which translates to almost a million more dollars in lifetime earnings for the student and a more robust economy for the state,” he said.

Implementation of the standards has garnered support in Missouri from more than 200 school districts, including Joplin, Webb City, Carl Junction, McDonald County, East Newton, Jasper, Lamar and Neosho; 50 educational organizations, including the Southwest Center for Educational Excellence; and 35 colleges and universities, including Crowder College and the School of Education at Missouri Southern State University.

Different assessments

A new test for assessing students in English and math under the Common Core standards is also on its way in Missouri and Kansas, which are part of a 24-state consortium working to develop what are being called the “Smarter Balanced” assessments for students in third through 11th grades.

The new tests, which will begin during the 2014-15 academic year, will be conducted online and will include multiple-choice questions — questions that require a constructed response and other tasks that are designed to measure critical thinking and problem-solving skills. They will replace the Missouri Assessment Program tests in Missouri as well as the current statewide tests taken by Kansas students.

More than 360 schools in Missouri, including schools in Joplin, Carthage, Neosho and Seneca, are part of a pilot program this spring to test and evaluate the new assessment system. Hart, the Joplin administrator, said the consortium also will check the accuracy of test items and get a sense of where districts are in the implementation of a computer-based test and where accommodations might need to be made for certain student populations.

Results of the pilot will not be used to report on student learning, state officials said.

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