New standards promote real-world teaching

Linda Saholt

News Review Correspondent

Sierra Sands Unified School District Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Shirley Kennedy is outspoken about her enthusiasm for the new Common Core State Standards.

In one of her presentations around town on the subject, she spoke at a Sept. 28 public meeting hosted by the Literacy Council of the Indian Wells Valley.

The new CCSS initiative is not mandated by the government. It is not even a federal government program. It is a voluntary effort in the participating states and coordinated by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices to establish clear and consistent education standards.

Until now education differed greatly from state to state. As the population becomes more mobile, students are being thrown into school systems with widely differing expectations. There is also the issue of what’s truly needed in today’s rapidly changing and heavily technology-dependent real world.

The education community realized that to compete and succeed in today’s business world, as well as in the global marketplace, students need to learn real-world skills.

Parents, educators, experts, researchers, national organizations and community groups from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia all participated in the development of CCSS. These were developed for English-language arts and mathematics, kindergarten through 12th grade.

Each state chooses whether to adopt the standards. So far, 46 states have adopted them. California’s State Board of Education voted unanimously on Aug. 2, 2010, to adopt the standards for both math and English-language arts. These standards can be found online at

Standards for other subjects are still being developed.

SSUSD has been working to integrate the new standards with current teaching, to make a smooth transition within the next two years.

For students, this means lots more technology in the classroom — doing research online, using multimedia, working both in groups and independently, learning to think critically. Keyboarding now starts in third grade.

“It’s not a whole lot of new curriculum,” said Kennedy. “Mostly, it’s strategies on how to deliver it. We are all over this. Teachers and administrators are being trained. We trained our trainers. I’m speaking to groups, parent groups, to the community.

“It’s critical that everyone’s on board to move the students along. We welcome parent involvement—it’s vital.”

This system will also allow students to take tests online. “This way, we get immediate feedback, so we can respond to it and intervene if necessary,” said Kennedy. Pilot tests were done at Murray Middle School for eighth grade math and at Pierce Elementary for grades three to five English language arts.

“The kids loved it! They didn’t want to go back to class, they wanted to keep doing the test. I’m serious!” said Kennedy.

“With computer testing, if you get the answer right, the computer ramps it up. If you get it wrong, the computer goes back over it to find out why. Instead of just bubbling the answer, they have to show how they got there. Some questions may even have two answers, and the students have to show how they got the answer for both.”

So, is cursive writing doomed? Kennedy assured all those present that, under the CCSS, local districts can add up to 15 percent of their own material to the required basics. Here in the SSUSD, handwriting is very much a part of the curriculum.

Story First Published: 2013-10-01