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Beck defends Common Core

School superintendent says new curriculum will serve students well


BECKAlternating clips from the movie “Moneyball” with information about changing curriculum, the leader of the Lake Oswego School District told parents this week that “we will not be afraid of the data” generated by new standardized state testing.

“We will use our strengths and work together,” Superintendent Heather Beck told a gathering of the district’s 12 School Advisory Committees. “We will use the data to our advantage.”

Beck acknowledged concerns over the arrival this spring of the Smarter Balanced Assessment test, and she talked about the new Common Core State Standards that will alter the way English and math are taught in Lake Oswego and across the country.

“It’s a scary time in education,” she said, “because so much is changing.”

Beck said that it could be difficult for districts to implement the new standards with thin wallets. State funding support for schools has been plummeting for decades, Beck said, putting Oregon schools at a disadvantage when they’re compared to states that devote more dollars to education.

She likened the state’s situation to that of the cash-strapped Oakland A’s in the film “Moneyball,” saying the combination of Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment could create the strategy schools need to improve student achievement despite tight funding.Photo Credit: REVIEW PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Lake Oswego School District Superintendent Heather Beck explains Common Core State Standards to the 12 School Advisory Committees.

The film’s subtitle is “The Art of Winning an Unfair Game,” Beck said, and that’s an art the school district should adopt.

“Moneyball” tells the story of real-life Oakland A’s Coach Billy Beane, who used players’ stats to make the most of a limited budget. He recruited the best players for each position for the best rate, rather than seeking out whoever the team could afford. The strategy Beane created in the late 1990s transformed the game of baseball.

In the same way, Beck said, teachers and administrators can employ data from Smarter Balanced Assessment to create an effective classroom strategy. Parents shouldn’t fret over test results, she said, because they will help shape classroom instruction to address problem areas and hone areas of strength.

Her message appeared to hit a home run.

“I found her inspirational,” said Ellen Lazaris, an Oak Creek Elementary SAC committee member. “It’s the first time I’ve heard her speak, and I think it’s something I’d like to see again. I would like to see this message spread.”

Common Core controversy

Common Core is formally being introduced in Oregon this school year, but the new curriculum is not without its critics. Four of the original 46 states that adopted Common Core have repealed it, saying the use of federal funds to develop the curriculum gives the federal government control over what should be decided locally. Other critics say the new curriculum teaches to the test.

Beck said in an interview last week that even if Common Core does teach to tests, it’s better than not teaching students how to pass standardized assessments. She also stood by the new curriculum, saying it will serve students well.

“Our kids are getting a better education than any of us have ever gotten,” she said.

Beck told SAC members on Monday to disregard politics and focus on the benefits Common Core can have. Throughout the presentation, SAC members participated in anonymous surveys via text messaging; more than 30 attendees named Common Core as a district priority. No one spoke against the new standards at the meeting, though some parents are looking to have their kids opt out of state testing. (Look for The Review’s story on the controversy in the Oct. 2 issue.)

District challenges

Despite potential advantages to Common Core and Smarter Balanced Assessment, there are challenges, Beck said. The test and curriculum will be more difficult; for example, she said students will see concepts introduced in sixth grade that previously would have come before them in eighth grade.

“The scores are going to go down because it’s a different test,” Beck said, “not because our kids aren’t as smart.”

Having a new benchmark to reach will be an adjustment, she said, but it won’t be a struggle for kids long-term. “We do believe kids will rise to that bar,” she said.

Standardizing the test and curriculum — reaching for the same bar as other states across the country — will draw a more accurate picture of local students’ knowledge base and preparedness for college, Beck said. The Lake Oswego School District long has tested among the best in the state; now, it will be able to compare itself against districts nationwide.

“The pool just got much bigger,” Beck said.

The new tests have “no ceiling and no floor,” Beck said, and success will be measured in part by improvement from one year to the next. The test, much like Common Core State Standards, will ask students to use more critical thinking when they solve math problems, rather than just “finding the right answer,” she said.

Beck said that although Common Core still uses literary works as an integral part of English courses, there will be an increase in the use of nonfiction text — such as scientific journals, technical manuals, biographies, graphs and maps — in English and other subject areas.

“I think (Beck) did a good job of explaining Common Core,” said Mike Monis, a Forest Hills Elementary SAC member.

Beck said teachers are going to be taking a few hours off from teaching this year to assess how students are adapting to the new curriculum, even though instruction time already is limited in the district. The national average for the number of hours kids spend in the classroom is 180, but it’s 172 hours on average in Oregon and 170 hours on average for LOSD.

To put things in perspective, Beck said that over the course of their public school career, students in Texas receive a full year more of instruction than students in LOSD. Yet teachers and staff do a great deal with the time and state funding they’re allotted, Beck said — just like Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane.

“We have a lot to be proud of,” she said. “Our story is a huge success story.”

Now, her goal is to make sure the story stays that way for LOSD families.

“It’s a good start,” Monis said. “We’ll see where it goes.”


By Jillian Daley
Reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 109
email: jdaley@lakeoswegoreview.com
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