Today, in Chula Vista classrooms and in much of the nation, students are being asked to explain their reasoning, deepen their understanding, and think more critically about what they are learning.
In a third grade classroom, for example, a teacher recently asked a small group of students to provide additional ways of solving a multiplication problem that a classmate had already answered correctly on a white board. One student went to the board and solved the problem with a number line. Another student went to the board and illustrated the problem with a series of dots. Each came up with the correct answer. Each also had to explain why and how they came up with their answers.
In the past, students simply memorized multiplication tables and provided the answer.
This is one example of how new “Common Core State Standards” are transforming public education in a way not seen before, perhaps the most dramatic change in U.S. schools since the Russians first won the space race in the middle of the last century. However, unlike the space race, the new standards didn’t result from a presidential call-to-action.
This initiative was launched and supported by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Parents, educators, content experts, researchers, national organizations, and community groups participated in the development of the standards. Support comes from a diverse cross-section of the country, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and PTA, to the National Education Association. The National PTA partnered with experts in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to create grade-by-grade guides for parents on CCSS.
The standards provide a practical way to prepare children for the challenges of a constantly changing world – by learning step-by-step the real-world skills they need for career and college.
Our students already have a strong knowledge foundation. However, with these new standards, it is not about eliminating what we have done in the past; it is about taking the standards that we have to a higher level of understanding for our students. Common Core is not about new curriculum, but rather about how we teach to ensure more students learn. Common Core is about changing how teachers teach, and to that extent our teachers have described Common Core as a “thinking curriculum.”
So, how is our District helping teachers to strengthen their instructional practices and align to Common Core?
The District is providing professional development in English Language Arts and Mathematics to all 1,400 teachers in the District. School district staff, principals and teachers are attending professional development workshops to understand the CCSS and plan for this year’s implementation. Parents, too, are learning about ways to help their children with new Common Core math or English at parent workshops. And our District has been sharing information with schools here and elsewhere about the new “Smarter Balanced” assessment system and its implications for instruction. In fact, schools in our District were among the first in San Diego County to participate in “pilot” assessments last year. We learned that our students required more opportunities to communicate what they know and understand both through oral and written forms of communication.
Knowing this, we were bettered prepared this year, when we implemented the Common Core State Standards across our 45 schools. We are already noticing a positive impact on teaching and learning. In English language arts, for example, students are expected to read as much non-fiction as fiction and to increase their academic vocabulary. In math, students are learning more about fewer key topics so they can think more deeply and more efficiently when solving real-world problems.
If you visit our schools, you will find that students are enjoying the academic discourse, sharing of ideas, and opportunities to work in small groups. Students’ engagement is increasing because they have more opportunities to communicate their thoughts and ideas. Common Core encourages that discourse.
To further support students and schools in the transition to the Common Core, a new California law (AB 484) suspends most Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) assessments for the current school year. This will allow school districts to prepare for and transition to the new California Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress assessments. These tests are slated for administration statewide in the 2014-15 school year.
The new assessments will be computer-based, allowing for a much broader range of test questions rather than only multiple-choice questions found in STAR. As a result, the new assessments are expected to emphasize critical thinking, reasoning, and problem-solving—modeling the kind of teaching and learning needed to prepare all students for the demands of college and the modern workplace.
Our District is committed to ensuring students, parents, and staff are fully prepared for this transition to a more meaningful, innovative, and rich learning experience for all students. We are confident that if we work together as a team, teaching and learning will be transformed in all of our classrooms.
Escobedo, Ed.D. is superintendent of the Chula Vista Elementary School District.