San Diego Unified and other districts across the nation continue to prepare students to compete in the global marketplace as they teach students to think critically, learn independently and communicate better in order to meet the new guidelines outlined in the Common Core State Standards.
These standards align with the district’s goals set forth in Vision 2020 to create a quality school in every neighborhood, and more specifically, provide students with a broad and challenging curriculum.
Adopted in 2010, the Common Core State Standards are a set of academic standards that establish clear and consistent guidelines for what every K-12 student across the country should know and be able to do in math and English language arts. Implementation of the Common Core, including how the standards are taught, the curriculum developed, and the materials used to support teachers as they help students reach the standards, is led entirely at the state and local levels.
“It’s important to remember that Common Core is not a curriculum,” said Jim Solo, executive director of leadership and learning. “It’s a shift in how subjects are taught to students and a change in what we expect students to do with the material we teach. How we assess students is also changing. “
The district’s focus this year is twofold: there is continued emphasis on making sure principals and teachers receive guidance and materials needed to teach students the way the standards demand; and schools are preparing students for the new assessment under Common Core, the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), which will be administered for the first time this year starting in May.
Last year, the district hosted numerous professional development sessions for principals to support them in their understanding of Common Core so they could lead it at their site as well as provide support for their teachers. This year, the district has scheduled more than 100 professional development sessions for teachers that are organized around four themed learning cycles.
Teacher participation in Professional Learning Communities, which allow teachers to share best practices at the ground level, has also proven effective in preparing teachers to teach to the Common Core Standards.
As teachers become more proficient in delivering the content, student progress will continue to advance as well.
There is concern, however, that as the district transitions to more demanding curriculum and new assessments are put in place, students may be missing out on valuable instruction and test scores may appear lower than they have in the past.
Solo recognizes these concerns but thinks that the Common Core curriculum is so much more rigorous than the previous material and the demands are so much more that we are more likely to see growth in student knowledge rather than any loss in instruction.
“You have to remember the tools [for measuring] are extremely different than any tools that have been used in the past,” Solo said. “It’s not just simply asking students multiple choice questions, which was what you had with the CST (California Standards Tests). Now, they have to respond in writing, they have to do tasks with their peers, then come back and write about it. In addition, there will be some multiple choice questions as well as short and longer answer questions. We’ve never assessed students this way in California on a state exam.”
Students in grades 3-8 and grade 11 will take the CAASPP during the testing window that stretches from April to June. Parents will be notified by schools when testing will occur for each grade level, but can check the district’s website now for general testing dates.
To prepare students for May assessments, the district has been continually updating and refining the curriculum that is being taught to meet the Common Core Standards. It spent the last several years strengthening the integrated math curriculum and will do the same with English language arts over this year. History is integrated with the English language arts portion of the Common Core Standards while science standards are being revised and will ultimately follow the Next Generation Science Standards.
“The integrated math curriculum is very strong and will prepare students for college,” Solo said. “It offers multiple pathways at the secondary level that will enable students to reach calculus by their senior year.”
Common Core allows for a deeper understanding of a subject while at the developmental stages. Rather than learning a little about a lot of topics, the curriculum is setup to allow more time for understanding the fundamentals. For instance in math, K-3 level students focus heavily on numbers, being able to break apart numbers and understand numbers in multiple ways. In grades 4-5, there is heavy emphasis on fractions. Probability, which used to be part of elementary school, is not addressed until middle school.
“They’ve done a lot of shifting around of the topics,” Solo said. “A great deal of the research from around the world shows that many countries with really smart math students go really deep in the things that matter at the developmental stage. Then it progresses from there.”
Ultimately, the goal with Common Core is to prepare all students for the global workplace.
“We have a lot of jobs in the country right now that American students are not qualified for. Engineering jobs being one example,” Solo said. “When you think about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), Common Core aligns itself very well to STEM. We are trying to produce students who are ready for the jobs of the future.”