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Common Core Overview

Common Core Overview

Introduction: What is all this talk about new standards?

There has been quite a lot of buzz about the now not-so-new Common Core State Standards, and we want to let you know what is happening here at Pathways. Just like all other public schools across the state, we are working to align our transition in ways that will allow our students to thrive. As you know, we follow an educational team approach that encourages full participation by all members: students, parents, and teachers. A key concept underlying the new standards – one that is supported by current brain research – is the idea of perseverance or grit. We ask students to grapple with complex ideas and problems, and research shows that this productive struggle leads to future success. We are now asking you, our educational team partners, to join us in persevering as we implement these new standards.

All schools will begin full implementation during 2014-15, but please understand that “true” implementation will not occur until 2024, when the first group of students to have been fully educated using this approach matriculates.

We imagine that you have many questions about the Common Core Standards and what they mean for our program and your children. We hope to provide an overview here, and you can count on us to share further information as we learn more ourselves. Please know that we are approaching the application of these new standards from a variety of perspectives. In addition to the resources and suggestions provided by state and county offices of education and local and national experts, we are in touch with schools that have programs similar to ours, as well as our contacts at statewide charter school, independent study, and personalized learning associations.

History: How did we get here? Why do we need new standards?

One of the motivations behind the development of the Common Core State Standards was the realization that many students were graduating without the skills necessary to face the challenges ahead; these standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter college programs and the workforce. The Common Core Standards are clear and concise, to guarantee that students, parents, and teachers have an understanding of the expectations in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language, and mathematics.

States across the country collaborated with researchers and leading experts to design and develop the Common Core Standards. Moreover, they were created in consultation with teachers and parents, so they are realistic and practical for the classroom (wherever that may be). Each state independently made the decision to adopt the Common Core State Standards, beginning in 2010.

Standards: What is different about these standards anyway?

While the Common Core Standards do not dramatically alter the content students cover, there are some important shifts in focus, highlighting true learning and meaningful, in-depth engagement. The standards emphasize the importance of thinking critically, supporting claims with evidence, and understanding why, how, and when to apply knowledge, as opposed to limiting student attention to final answers. Key elements include:

Shifts in English-Language Arts

  • Develop literacy in all content areas (history and social studies, science and technical subjects, electives and the arts)
  • Increase reading of informational texts
  • Read increasingly more complex texts
  • Develop ability to make evidentiary arguments based on a text
  • Constantly build academic vocabulary

Shifts in Mathematics

  • Focus deeply on the concepts that are prioritized in the grade-level standards
  • Intentionally connect learning progressions within and across grades
  • Develop fluency (speed and accuracy with simple calculations)
  • Deepen conceptual understanding of core math concepts (by applying them to new situations)
  • Choose appropriate tools and approaches when applying math to real problems.

Curriculum: How will this impact the curriculum I use with my child?

You may have noticed that, with increasing attention on the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards, numerous publishers and websites proclaim their materials are Common Core “aligned” or “correlated,” and you may wonder how this applies to the curriculum available at Pathways (especially those materials that you and your child have long preferred). The reality is two-fold: while new, truly aligned curricula are being developed and have yet to be adopted, many existing materials may still be used. However, students – as well as parents and teachers – will be asked to approach these materials in new ways, engaging the habits of mind described in the shifts discussed above.

 

In English Language Arts and Literacy, literature may be supplemented with informational texts providing historical context or other correlations, and all reading will benefit from in-depth investigation and active questioning. The integrated projects and unit studies popular with many home-based learners are ideal for this approach. Regardless of the topic or subject area, students will be encouraged to have repeated, focused interaction with key material, thereby gaining deeper understanding.

 

In Mathematics, there are changes to the order in which some concepts and skills are presented, but the essential content remains the same. It is also recommended that high school students approach math study via integrated coursework, as opposed to the traditional separation of material into Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, and so on. As with ELA-Literacy, students will be asked to tolerate a certain amount of productive struggle as they strive to understand and apply their math learning. Turning to the answer key may not always be the final step when solving a problem.

 

Assessment: What statewide assessments will be required?

Just as the previous California Content Standards were assessed using a standardized test (often referred to as STAR), the new Common Core State Standards will also be assessed with a statewide test for students in grades 3-11; the primary tool will be the Smarter Balanced Assessment online test. This current school year will act as a “field test” for the assessment to help the test creators refine the bank of questions and to allow schools to implement the needed infrastructure for testing. Pathways is researching options for student tablets or other testing devices and technology, as well as coordinating the logistics for testing days, times, and locations. Using the eBulletins, regional Area Coordinators will communicate about the specifics for your child’s region. As always, we will make every effort to create a safe and low-stress testing environment for all students.

 

Students in grades 3-11 will take the ELA or Math portion of the test, and they will not receive results. Testing will occur sometime between March 18 and June 6, 2014. Additionally, students in grades 5, 8, and 10 will take the CST Science test, which will assess their cumulative science knowledge. Finally, students in grade 11 who wish to take the EAP (Early Assessment of Readiness) for college course placement will need to take the full set of STAR CSTs for their grade level, as well as the new Smarter Balanced test. Pathways usually has only four or five students who elect to take the EAP, so talk with your Area Coordinator if you feel this could apply to your student.


  • Computer Selected Response (student chooses answer)
  • Computer Constructed Response (student generates answer)
  • Computer Enhanced Response (student manipulates items on computer screen by using a mouse or by interacting with technology in some other way)
  • Performance Tasks (may include student group work)

We all need time to practice this new assessment format. Over the next few months, we will send out links to practice tests similar to the STAR released-test questions. Families can use these practice tests to get a sense of the new testing format. However, remember that the actual test items are still being calibrated and full Common Core implementation is years down the road, so please do not be alarmed by the sample questions you see. We should all expect initial student scores to be lower (as compared to previous STAR results); that is natural, given that we are asking students to think and show their learning in new ways. Over time, we can build these skills, and that progress will show in the assessments results. Remember, standardized testing is only one way to look at what your child knows!