Kennedy of SSUSD explains Core Standards

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

The latest major educational effort at the national level is Common Core State Standards, a program designed to even out the differences in educational content between states, from kindergarten through Grade 12, so that a high school diploma from one state carries the same meaning and educational level as a diploma from a different state.

Several states have worked together to develop standards for math and English in each grade level and are working on standards for science and history.

California has adopted the CCSS, so all school districts in our state are under a deadline to implement these standards by the 2014-15 school year.

Information and frequently asked questions about the CCSS can be found at www.corestandards.org. The actual text of the CCSS, including both math and English sections, can be found on the California Depart-ment of Education site, www.cde.ca.gov.

According to Shirley Kennedy, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction at Sierra Sands Unified School District, SSUSD is right on track.

“We have been teaching the California State Standards for about 15 years,” said Kennedy. “Those came out in 1998 or 1999. At that time, it was guidance for schools to ensure that students learn specific concepts at specific grade levels. Each state did that independently. That created a sense of consistency for schools within each state at the time.

“Over the last few years, we learned that different states had different standards at different grade levels. We all had our own definition of proficiency. What was considered proficiency in one state did not necessarily equate to proficiency in another.”

The “No Child Left Behind” program did not take into account different learning styles, and made the lack of consistency between states more of an issue, she said.

“The whole point behind CCSS is to provide consistency among all the states. The process for English and math came out in March of 2010, and a number of states made the decision whether or not to adopt.

“California adopted the CCSS in August 2010. So for us at SSUSD, we started working on it because we were aware of what the program involved from the very beginning. We had a lot of professional development sessions to assist teachers and staff in learning the new standards and creating a transition plan.”

For the past three years, SSUSD’s main focus has been on checking what’s the same and what’s different about the two systems, to make alignment changes wherever possible while still holding to the California State Stan-dards through 2014 to help ease the transition from one accountability system to another.

“We’ve been working with a three-level transition plan,” said Kennedy. “First, awareness — we’re learning what the new standards are. Second, planning — there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work here.

“Our teachers are creating pacing so all will have covered the material by the end of the school year. The teachers are working together on this to create pacing guides. They have to guarantee all the standards for the grade level they’re teaching, knowing some students may not be as adept at grasping concepts, so we have systems in place to provide intervention for students who need extra support so they can also maintain the pace of grade-level material.”

These interventions can include immediate extra help from the teacher, before- or after-school work with the student and extra support on top of the class work. Referrals for possible testing may be made to see if a particular student has something interfering with the learning process. Some students just need more time to do the work.

Occasionally a student may need to be checked for learning disabilities.

Counseling is available if needed. “We have all kinds of strategies to help kids move through the curriculum,” said Kennedy.

Another factor that is different about this system is testing methods. Under this program, students can be tested in a variety of ways to see if they are truly learning the material and if they can demonstrate their knowledge in a way different from the current multiple-choice testing.

“Our schools are filled with strategies so students can be successful,” said Kennedy. “We have pretty much a ‘whatever it takes’ philosophy. We’re well above the county and state levels with our graduation rate and our low dropout rate. We work really hard with our students to make sure they’re successful.”

She added that she’s “excited about the CCSS. We like what’s been included. It’s very relevant and students are responding to it well. Students need to know the material. but can they apply it? We’re seeing a lot more critical thinking, analysis and problem solving to demonstrate that they can apply the information that they know.

“Another aspect of the transition is technology — it’s embedded in this curriculum. Students are assessing, really writing, speaking, listening and using various types of technology.

“Students are citing textual evidence, and doing argumentative writing. They can read a preamble, for example, and dissect the article so they really understand it at a deep level. They’re asked to take a position and argue their point using the text. In the work world, you’re writing proposals and things like that. This is to prepare students for their college career instead of waiting. We’re teaching readiness skills so they can step into either college or a career.”

Entry-level requirements in the job market have changed over the years. “The CCSS is addressing this change. Students are being taught to think earlier,” said Kennedy. “The school district is in a really good position to make the transition. Staffers are working hard to prepare for this.”

Most of the testing is on-line. For example a student may need headphones to hear a short speech, then answer questions testing listening skills. Then there are performance tasks, where students have to work together to accomplish a task. Many methods are used to make sure students don’t just guess, but instead demonstrate their knowledge.

Story First Published: 2013-06-05