ILLINOIS SCHOOL BOARD JOURNAL
Academic game changer …
Implementing Common Core State Standards in Illinois
by Donna McCaw, Stuart Yager, Carol Webb and Rene Noppe
Donna McCaw recently retired from WIU and currently works with the Common Core Institute. Stuart Yager is an associate professor educational leadership at Western Illinois University in Macomb. Rene Noppe and Carol Webb are assistant professors in educational leadership at WIU.
Part I: Common Core 101
School reform movements are not new to policy and decision makers. Each decade seems to have brought at least one new idea or program that would “fix” a system that many believed to be broken. This is the first in a four-part series giving school board members background knowledge on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the potential impact these new standards will have on teaching and learning, things for boards to look for and district implementation issues.
The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution placed the responsibility for public education under each state’s jurisdiction. Since 1975 when Public Law 94-142 (the original special education law) went into effect, the federal government has increasingly influenced public education. Through federal legislation and funding, mandates for testing and accountability have increased.
It was increasingly apparent to progressive state leaders that regaining state-level control over education means states would have to work together and create mutually agreed upon common standards. The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) organized the work.
On June 10, 2011, the K-12 Common Core State Standards were released. Illinois was an early adopter and has influential positions within the governing bodies of CCSS and its assessment consortium, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
The CCSS are based on current educational research. They focus on preparing all students to be college and career ready. They are reported as being fewer and more clearly written than most state standards, and they reflect the work that states with standards had already accomplished, as well as the knowledge and skills required for international academic and career success.
The standards are written for grades K-12. English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematic standards have been released. Work is currently being done on science and social studies standards. The ELA standards include K-5 foundational reading skills, informational text, literature, writing, speaking and listening, language, and literacy across the content areas (history/social studies, science and technical subjects). Although all areas of ELA will be important, the shift in informational texts and writing will be notable.
Math standards include math practices and math content. Math practices require students to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them, reason quantitatively and abstractly, construct viable arguments, and critique the reasoning of others. It is worth noting that in some districts the change in academic expectations for math will come two grade levels lower. In other words, sixth-grade math content will now be taught in fourth grade. This will not be universally true, nor does it include all math content. But there is definitely a shift in rigor and expectations.
As of early April, five states had not as yet officially adopted Common Core standards: Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia. A map showing states and when they adopted CCSS can be found at http:// www.corestandards.org/in-the-states.
The federal government’s involvement has been focused on funding the creation of new state student tests. The inability for many of the state common core consortia members to fund the creation of a new assessment to accompany the new standards resulted in two federal grant-funded state assessments to be created. CCSS states were given the option of joining SMARTER Balanced Consortium (SBAC) or PARCC. Illinois selected PARCC.
The new third- through 11th-grade student state tests will begin in 2014-2015. Descriptions of the Common Core State Standards can be found at http://www.corestandards. org and PARCC assessment information can found at http://www.parcconline.org/. Additionally, the National Parent Teacher Association has information on its website regarding the standards at http://www. pta.org/common_core_state_standards.asp.
What do the standards look like?
To get a sense of how much different the new standards are, let’s look at the youngest learners’ expectations: kindergarten math and writing. By the end of kindergarten, students will be expected to do the following in math:
• Count objects to tell how many there are.
• Compare two groups of objects to tell which group, if either, has more; compare two written numbers to tell which is greater.
• Act out addition and subtraction word problems and draw diagrams. to represent them.
• Add with a sum of 10 or fewer; subtract from a number 10 or fewer; and solve addition and subtraction word problems
• Add and subtract very small numbers quickly and accurately (e.g., 3 + 1).
• Name shapes regardless of orientation or size (e.g., a square oriented as a “diamond” is still a square) (National Association of Parent Teachers’ Association, 2012, p. 3).
At the end of kindergarten, students will be expected to do the following in writing:
• Use a combination of drawing, dictating and writing to compose opinion pieces in which they tell a reader the topic or the name of the book they are writing about and state an opinion or preference about the topic or book (e.g., My favorite book is …).
• Use a combination of drawing, dictating and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
• Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened.
Most significant about these requirements is that kindergarten is currently not required in the Illinois School Code. Current Illinois Learning Standards (ILS) are written for kindergarten through third grade, but no ILS standards were written just for kindergarten.
One current ILS in math reads: Compare the numbers of objects in groups.
In the new CCSS for kindergarten, the standard will read: Identify whether the number of objects in one group is greater than, less than or equal to the number of objects in another group, e.g., by using matching and counting strategies. (Include groups with up to 10 objects.)
The differences in expectations are self-explanatory.
What do the new assessments look like?
The requirements set by the U.S. Department of Education necessitated student performance to be reflected in a new generation of assessments reflective of real-world applications. And they needed to challenge students to use higher levels of reasoning and thinking skills.
As the world around has become more complex and more competitive, the National Governors Association and the CCSSO determined that U.S. students needed to go deeper into content, “master” skills previously only “covered,” and develop critical thinking skills. Samples of the assessment questions are scheduled by PARCC to be released late this summer. Some ROEs and private professional development providers are giving us glimpses into what they might look like.
“Improving middle school students’ achievement by just two score points in each subject area would have a cascading effect over the succeeding levels of education,” said Kevin Baird, executive director of College and Career Readiness, a not-for-profit organization that provides up-to-date information on implementation processes and planning. “The 13-point increase in the percentage of high school graduates ready for college-level mathematics should later produce about 25,000 additional degree completers at two- and four-year colleges (and about 25,000 fewer college dropouts) each year in the United States.
“Extrapolating from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates (U.S. Department of Labor, 2007), these new degree completers would enjoy an increase of close to $500 million per year in their combined average salary (i.e., about $20,000 per person) and a drop in their average unemployment rate of 2 percentage points.”
Schools now find themselves in an exciting and yet unchartered academic position. No change, since the inception of special education into public schools, has required the types of instructional and curricular movements that this opportunity will afford. With limited time and limited resources, informed decisions are more needed than ever.
The next three articles will examine in greater detail: the major shifts that will have to take place within most classrooms, what exactly this means to policy, more specific information about the assessments, how to shape public information sessions and possible next steps.
Part II: July/August — Shifting the focus
Part III: September/October — What to look for
Part IV: November/December — Eating the elephant
FAQs about the Common Core State Standards
Aren’t these really federal standards? No. The standards allow for the development of consistent skills and knowledge across adopted state educational systems but are not mandated by the federal government. The federal government is funding the creation of the state assessments, for which there are two choices. The state-level options to adopt the CCSS and the option to use either of the two testing consortia place the emphasis of these new standards at the constitutionally supported state decision-making level.
Will we now have a federal curriculum? No. We will have greater uniformity of standards but uniquely individualized methods of teaching and assessing the next generation of students.
Did anyone dissent regarding the CCSS ? Yes. Some individuals, groups and organizations do not agree with implementing CCSS. Examples of their concerns range from not viewing this as good for all children and as a movement toward a national curriculum and away from local control.
Will this cost our district money? Probably. Depending on how 21st century your current curriculum and instructional practices are, your teachers and administrators may need professional development in areas related to curriculum alignment, research-based instructional and assessment practices, and new instructional materials. Questions also exist related to managing the immense amounts of data and monitoring that will go with properly implementing the new standards. There is a sincere hope that the ultimate return on your investment will be found in better-prepared college students and a strengthened workforce.
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