New School Standards Rolling Out Across San Diego County
California is one of 45 states moving toward using new, voluntary national curriculum guidelines for mathematics and English called the Common Core. This is the first year most of San Diego County’s schools will at least be trying the guidelines on for size. At a training this week, principals discussed how to lead teachers, students and parents through the change.
Under the Common Core standards, students will focus less on learning lots of facts and more on developing skills like problem solving, forming arguments based on evidence and working effectively in teams.
Jessica McCreary has been leading teacher and administrator trainings on what’s in the standards for the San Diego County Office of Education and a principal-in-residence since 2010. Now she’s teaching principals to communicate just how fundamental the changes are.
“Don’t just go around and tell teachers ‘you have these new standards, here’s your new books, here’s your new assessment. Now do it,’" she said. "Instead really think about what it means to get people to change their practice in the classroom, to change the way even students perceive their education.”
The teachers at Challenger Middle School in Mira Mesa will be trying out Common Core lessons this year. Principal Diane Ryan said the idea is to give students complex skills and connect classroom learning to the real world they’ll encounter after high school or college.
“The ability to research, gather and synthesize information – and then what do you do with it? Ya know, what’s the moral purpose driving any of that work," she said. "What good does it do, research on global warming, if we don’t take action?”
Students will be reading more nonfiction in their English classes and focus on supporting their ideas or arguments about what they've read by citing evidence from the texts. They'll also be doing a lot more writing.
At Carson Elementary in Linda Vista teachers will be working on how to get students writing "across the curriculum," Principal Joe Frescatore said.
"That means writing in science, writing in math," he said. "Writing about what students understand, not just the process of what they've done. That's something you have to explicitly teach — students, and adults too, aren't used to writing about understanding, they're focused on process."
At Westwood Elementary School in Poway Unified, Principal Michael Mosgrove said his teachers worked on lining up their writing curriculum with the new standards last year. This year, they're focused on shifting math instruction.
The shift they'll be working on is moving away from starting with teaching students the different functions, like multiplication and division, toward starting with real-world situations that students will need to use math to solve.
As the director of special education for the Grossmont Union High School District, Rose Tagnesi said when she and her staff first saw the standards, they worried the more complex approach to learning would be hard for her students. Now, she said, she believes the focus on critical thinking and documenting the process used to get an answer will actually be a boon for students who have struggled under the current standards.
"Finding the answer, and finding the right answer has always been a challenge for our students," Tagnesi said. "But the focus on process, on asking 'how did you get to that answer?' I think will be an opportunity for our students to really shine."
But the principals at this week's training in San Marcos are already familiar with what's in the Common Core. What they're talking about now is how to help their teachers shift to the new standards smoothly and how to convince them the shift is important and urgently needed.
"When you look at the statistics about how many students are getting bachelor's degrees and how many jobs will require degrees in the future, you see we're going to be at a shortage soon," McCreary, the trainer, said. "So, we really have to be graduating kids who have the skills they'll need to be college and career ready."
At the eleventh hour, Governor Jerry Brown set aside $1 billion of this year's unexpected tax revenue increase for districts to spend for the next two years on implementing the new standards. The money is earmarked for expenses such as technology purchases, teacher and administrator trainings and classroom materials that are in line with the Common Core. While California adopted the standards in 2010, these are the first state funds dedicated to the dramatic shift.
California is adopting new standardized tests that go along with the Common Core. The online exams include open-answer questions and will be widely tested next spring. They’ll be used to judge school and student performance starting in 2015.