Educators speak in support of Common Core
Thanks to the newly implemented Common Core State Standards, the days of using a No. 2 pencil to fill out standardized, multiple-choice tests every spring are ending.
Those tests will now be done on computers, with some short-answer and other types of questions instead of just multiple-choice. It’s among many changes occurring in South Dakota schools as a result of Common Core.
During a meeting with The Daily Republic’s editorial board Monday in conjunction with American Education Week, three members of the education community praised Common Core and attempted to dispel some misconceptions.
“Common Core allows our kids to become more critical thinkers and is definitely different than what we’ve done in the past,” said Pat Moller, Mitchell High School mathematics teacher and 2012 state teacher of the year. “But it’s different in a good way, and I think that’s what really drives me to get behind the Common Core standards.”
Also at the meeting in the newspaper’s office were Sanborn Central School District Superintendent Linda Whitney and Sandra Waltman, Pierre-based director of communications and government relations for the South Dakota Education Association.
Whitney said Common Core standards will push students to a deeper understanding of subjects, better prepare them for college and the workforce, and improve their critical thinking.
“We’re trying to get kids more excited about learning, and I think Common Core does that,” Whitney said. “It makes them think.”
Common Core is a set of standards in English-language arts and math that provides expectations for what students from kindergarten to high school should know. The standards, developed in 45 states including South Dakota, were assembled by teams of teachers, researchers and education experts.
The Common Core standards originated from conversations that state education leaders and governors were having about their schools in the late 2000s.
Common Core went into effect in South Dakota this fall after the state Board of Education adopted the standards in 2010.
Under No Child Left Behind, a federal education law passed in 2002 during the Bush administration, each state must measure the performance level of its school districts. No Child Left Behind requires states to test students in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once again in high school. Additionally, NCLB set what many came to consider an unrealistic goal of raising 100 percent of students to proficient or advanced levels on state assessments by the end of the 2013-14 school year.
Some states, including South Dakota, have been granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind after the Obama administration announced in 2011 it would award waivers to states that agreed to adopt certain education ideas. South Dakota applied for the waiver to expand performance measuring in its school districts, and part of that expansion included the Common Core standards.
The expansion at the high school level looks at student achievement — including new standardized tests — high school completion, and college and career readiness. There are other things that are measured at the elementary level, such as attendance and academic growth.
As recently as last year, students were required to take the Dakota STEP test for standardized assessments. The new test under Common Core, Smarter Balanced, incorporates more short-answer, open-ended questions that measure thinking skills and content knowledge.
Whitney explained Common Core may still include traditional activities such as memorizing math facts and reading classics such as Shakespeare, but it allows teachers to be “a guide on the side and more of a facilitator of information.”
“It used to be you just regurgitated information,” Whitney said. “You learned it, you got it on a test and filled in the blank. Nobody ever asked you why you think that’s the answer.
“We don’t need to regurgitate information. If I need to know something, I Google it. Kids do that all the time. We need to use information in order to solve problems.”
Common Core is not federally mandated — which, according to Whitney, is the biggest misconception about it — and local school boards, administrators and teachers are responsible for determining how to teach to the standards.
“For the most part, teachers are embracing this,” Waltman said. “The teachers I’ve talked to, the thing they find so appealing about Common Core State Standards is that it’s going back to what they used to love about teaching: looking at what students need and being able to figure out different strategies to help them learn.
“They felt like with No Child Left Behind, it was just getting the kids ready for the test. Yes, there’s hesitation because it’s new. But as Common Core starts to really take hold, teachers will start to feel the freedom in their classrooms to try different things and be creative.”