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Local educators seek to clarify new standards

As educators, we’ve noticed the pattern of published editorials and articles about the new national education standards, and we wanted to clear up some of the major myths about what standards are and what they mean to teachers, students and their families, and to our community.

In 2010, the Oregon Department of Education adopted new national learning standards called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) to make sure that all children succeed once they graduate from high school.

The need for the standards came from the gap between college admissions and college readiness, including complaints from employers that high school graduates don’t have the skills to succeed in work.

Currently, the U.S. has the highest college dropout rate in the world because many students are under-prepared for college coursework.

The new standards answer the growing gap between high school graduate readiness versus college and career readiness.

Most people agree that a high school diploma should mean that students have the skills to successfully move into education beyond high school or into careers. But before teachers determine if students are truly college and career ready, we must agree on the standards that determine the success of meeting those goals. The new standards describe what students in K-12 grades should know and be able to do in key areas: reading, writing, speaking-listening, academic language and mathematics by the end of each grade.

It’s important to understand what standards are and what they are not. Standards are designed to describe what students should know and be able to do at each grade level, help define academic success, and focus learning progressions.

However, standards don't tell teachers how to teach, don’t dictate learning strategies and don’t determine topics or content.

OEA Today, a publication from the union that represents Oregon classroom teachers, states that “great teaching, the how of learning, not the Common Core Standards themselves, will ultimately transform student learning,” (“Focus on the Common Core,” (2014), p. 14). To support teacher learning with the new standards, the national teachers’ union has launched a website, cc.betterlesson.com/mtp, which highlights over 3,000 Common Core-aligned lessons for classroom teachers.

Standards are the what of learning; curriculum is the how of learning, which is in the hands of local teachers’ expertise and decisions.

Schools have had learning standards for a long time, but the new standards mark several big changes. Sarah Brown Wessling, of PBS's Teaching Channel, notes five major shifts:

1. All roads lead to algebra. In the past, schools in the United States taught whole numbers many times throughout a student's experience. In an effort to get students ready for algebra, which is a gatekeeper to more complex math, teachers now focus on fewer skills but with greater depth; fewer concepts early with greater mastery make algebra more accessible.

2. The road to algebra is traveled through fractions. According to researchers, the greatest predictor of deeply understanding algebra is grasping fractions. Students must know whole numbers and be able to use that knowledge before moving to fractions; once students have mastered fractions, they’re ready for algebra.

3. Literacy is front and center in all content areas. Subject-area reading (science, social studies, history, math, health, art, language arts and so on) has been around for a long time. Yet, it can be confusing why middle and high school teachers in all subjects are “required to teach reading.” Learning is language-based; academic subjects are grounded in literacy and following the narrative plot in a story doesn’t mean students are ready to learn through informational articles. Who is better to teach students how to read subject specific articles than their expert teachers?

4. Students will use evidence from text, graphs, videos, and other medium to support their thinking. Common Core combines reading, writing, speaking and listening, which means graduating students will know how to locate, analyze, cite and explain how evidence is related to their point.

5. It’s easy to assume that "common" means the same. Instead, think of terms of consistency in what students are learning. The need for common language and common ground does not mean everyone turns to the same page in the same textbook at the same time. In fact, Common Core’s introduction states: “Teachers are free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge in the teachers' professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the learning goals set out in the Standards.”

Much has changed in education and in the workplace in the last fifteen years. Schools must keep up to prepare students for learning beyond high school. We believe teachers can help close the existing gap between high school readiness and college and career readiness. The new standards focus teachers on the right work at the right time to offer students real opportunities beyond high school.

For more information on the standards, see:

• http://www.corestandards.org/

• http://cc.betterlesson.com/

John Steach, Canby School District superintendent

Tony Crawford, Oregon Educators’ Associate vice president

Joan Flora, Canby School District literacy specialist




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