Area districts prep for common standards across curriculums

Brett Moist – For the Northwest Herald      
Student Kevin Robinett-Carrion, 14,  raises his hand to voice his opinion on an argument Friday during his English class at Woodstock High School.
Brett Moist – For the Northwest Herald Student Kevin Robinett-Carrion, 14, raises his hand to voice his opinion on an argument Friday during his English class at Woodstock High School.

Inside Heather Brown's Woodstock High School English class, students have stood in front of the class to debate and practice the parliamentary process. In Bethany Hall's math class, students had to present solutions to problems they solved and defend their process and solution to the class.

Speaking in front of other students, and defending answers and positions, is just one of the new requirements of the Common Core standards being implemented by school districts in Illinois.

In 2009, governors and state education commissioners from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia committed to developing a common core of English standards and math standards for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

The Common Core State Standards is a single set of clear standards for students to meet. English and math were developed first because they teach the skills students build upon for other subjects, according to an Illinois PTA information sheet on Common Core.

So far, 45 of the states have adopted the standards.

States are developing the science standards as well, said Jean Bevevino, assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment for Crystal Lake School District 47.

"It's all about getting children ready for college and careers of the future," Bevevino said.

The standards set a clear understanding of what has to be learned at each grade level, said Derek Straight, the curriculum director for Johnsburg District 12.

For example, by the end of second grade, students should be able to fluently add and subtract within 20 without using fingers or blocks.

The English standards call for more informational text, or nonfiction, instead of the previous emphasis on literary, or fiction, reading. Adults typically read nonfiction books, such as manuals or technical books, Straight said.

Previously, through fourth grade there was 75 percent to 80 percent fiction reading, "because we love to read fiction," Straight said.

Now, by fourth grade it will be more of a 50-50 split, and by high school, Common Core calls for 70 percent nonfiction reading.

"This is what kids will be reading when they become adults," Straight said. "It's about being college and career ready."

The standards are about making learning more rigorous and raising the bar for all students, Straight said.

"We want them to learn how to think, we want them to be able to transfer that to a lot of different situations," Straight said.

Common Core also calls for a different teaching style.

The teacher no longer will be the "sage on the stage" standing in front of the classroom with all the answers. Instead a teacher is more of a "guide on the side" facilitating discussion and learning, Straight said.

Previously teachers wanted students to remember, comprehend and have a basic understanding of content. Students need to have already read the material before class and be prepared to discuss it in front of a group.

"Now we want them to analyze, we want them to evaluate, and we want them to create," Straight said.

With 45 states adopting the standards, Common Core helps level the playing field, Straight said. If students move in from other districts, or other states, "we know where they've been and know what they covered," Straight said.

However there is still local control, Straight said. Even though the goals are set, how a school gets there or teaches the standards is up to the individual districts.

Districts have been phasing in these changes and hope to have it all in place by 2014-15, when third- through eighth-grade students stop taking the Illinois Standard Achievement Test they do now and begin taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or the PARCC assessment, which is aligned to Common Core, said George Oslovich, assistant superintendent for Middle and High School Education for Woodstock District 200.

Common Core calls for more critical thinking, Oslovich said, and instead of teaching a little bit about a lot of topics, schools are going more in-depth on fewer topics.

For example it's not important to know what year Christopher Columbus is credited with discovering America, but rather the implications of doing so.

There is more emphasis on presentations, doing research and arguing points in class; instead of teaching the facts, it's how to get to the facts, Oslovich said.

"It asks kids to think more, support their arguments," Oslovich said.

School districts are in the process of implementing the standards, and in Woodstock, teachers are focusing on changes to classroom instruction.

"We're looking for [students] to do a lot more critical thinking in the classroom, turning away from skill and drill stuff that oftentimes happens, to being able to support and defend answers," Oslovich said.

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