Common Core: Coming to schools in 2014-15 |

Common Core: Coming to schools in 2014-15

Photo for The Union by John Hart
John Hart | The Union

Educational standards are about to experience a dramatic shift in the next year as Common Core sweeps the nation.

The standards were adopted by the California State Board of Education in 2010 and focus on critical thinking and application of reading, writing and math skills to prepare for college and career readiness.

“Standardized testing has been a mile wide and an inch thick and now it will be a mile thick and an inch wide,” said Britta Skavdahl, superintendent of Pleasant Ridge School District, which underwent a pilot program using Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium to test out the new Common Core standards.

“The new federal curriculum involves critical thinking and depth of knowledge, understanding what you’re doing, interacting with text and defending your answer.”

“No Child Left Behind was a good idea but destroyed kids taking ownership of learning.”
— Jim Richards, Magnolia math teacher

Rather than segregate standards by state, which is the current model, Common Core is geared to provide uniform standards for all schools nationwide. Forty-five states have voluntarily adopted the standards thus far.

“The advent of Common Core is a movement to have a national curriculum in the U.S.,” Skavdahl said. “We have 50 different community sets of standards, and this provides a single set of national standards.”

Those standards in terms of the English and language arts will encourage students to go beyond answering questions on a test, even being tasked to defend their position in essays.

“It shifts learning toward expository writing, opinion writing, argumentative writing,” Skavdahl said. “It is a step beyond writing a persuasive essay.”

The new standards elicited a positive response from some teachers, who hope to see more engagement by students after standards focus on critical thinking.

“It focuses on explaining what you’re doing and promotes teachers to teach thinking skills,” said Jim Richards, a Magnolia Intermediate School math teacher who has taught for 30 years, adding he has seen a significant drop in student engagement after the implementation of standardized testing as a measure of teaching and learning.

“Right now students are so conditioned to STAR testing, which is based on procedure and memorization,” he said. “The focus has been for students to have to pass the test, not learn. There has been a real drop in the number of kids engaged.”

The effects of the test should be visible in the next several years, Richards said.

The Smarter Balanced online assessment system allows for faster feedback and saves time printing and grading papers, Richards said.

“We have access to Datawise, and I can create tests and break down concepts,” Richards said. “I can make adjustments tomorrow if I got the results back quickly.”

Teachers can also view an individual breakdown of student progress quickly rather than having to wait to see test results the following school year. The tests are advanced and utilize 21st century skills and technology, Skavdahl said.

“The accountability model today is so flawed. This looks at growth model by student. The current tests are not designed to do that,” she said “These tests are so sophisticated. It electronically reformats automatically, so if you get a wrong answer, it will take you back to an easier question, and if you get a correct answer, it will take you forward and measure what you can do.”

Magnolia students held mixed opinions on the new testing, and some said the computer system allowed for better ease of use than the written format of the current STAR testing.

“It was faster and easier,” said eighth-grader Josh Griesel. “It was easier to use with the computer. I just liked all of it way better.”

Familiarity with the technology is also something to which students will have to adjust.

“I liked it better than STAR testing, but it was difficult getting used to using the mouse to write,” said Colton Fetzer, an eighth-grader.

Some students said the noise made by typing was distracting, and the move away from the classroom where material was taught made information recall more difficult.

“I like being in the classroom where you learned it,” said Kayleigh Siebels, an eighth-grade student. “If you’re taking a math test in an English classroom, it’s harder to remember what you learned.”

Another student said the text box where work is to be written lacked sufficient space.

“I don’t like it,” said eighth-grader Grace Tortorici. “It’s more stressful, and there’s not much room to write, and if you have a text box and you run out of room, you have to erase and write it all over again.”

The former national standardized testing model, No Child Left Behind, passed in 2001, promoted standardized testing-based learning and negatively changed the way students approached school, Richards said.

“No Child Left Behind was a good idea but destroyed kids taking ownership of learning because it was all based on testing and being able to perform a procedure and put such high pressure on teachers to teach to the test and get high test scores,” Richards said.

One of the challenges to Common Core is the need for improved technological equipment and updated computer systems capable of conducting the standards assessment tests, as well as new textbooks and materials.

“Unfortunately, we only have 17 computers in our computer lab that meet the requirements of the new Common Core testing — we need more computers,” Mark Rodriguez, principal of Alta Sierra Elementary, said in an email. “The good news is our proactive and enthusiastic Parents’ and Teachers’ Club is busy working to assist us in acquiring new computers by putting on a ‘Casino Night and Auction’ fundraiser Feb. 23 at the Alta Sierra Country Club.”

Schools without the necessary technology will rely on fundraising to meet their needs, Rodriguez said, adding that the purchase of new textbooks will happen gradually.

“Textbooks are in the distance,” Rodriguez said. “We expect allocations for this purpose and new legislation appears to allow open sourcing and more local control.”

“We are looking to see if Congress provides additional funds,” Skavdahl said.

Along with technical upgrades, younger, less tech-savvy students also will be challenged, said Jeff Peach, technology curriculum specialist.

“You have to make sure the network and hard drive are going to be able to handle the testing,” Peach said. “And you need a very fast (Internet connection) network or else you’re asking for trouble.”

“Setting up 1,095 user names and passwords is difficult for third grade,” Peach said. “And you have to have keyboard skills and learn to type.”

The instant results, however, make up for technological challenges, Peach said.

“The whole thing is going to be wonderful,” Peach said. “There will be instant results and the administration of testing is a piece of cake, and teachers won’t have to wait six months. They can get the results two weeks later.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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