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OPINION: SD educators find common ground on Common Core

By Luann Lindskov, Donna DeKraai, Mindy Foltz, Sonya Fossum and Tammy Jo Schlechter

South Dakota 2014 regional teachers of the year

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As South Dakota’s 2014 regional teachers of the year, we have dedicated our lives to providing students with learning experiences that prepare them for further education, careers and life as productive citizens of this great nation.

In today’s global economy, we are preparing students to compete not only with the person down the street but also the person on the other side of the world. It seems not only appropriate, but necessary to update what students need to know and be able to do in an ever-changing society. We welcome and embrace this challenge.

This school year, South Dakota has made the transition to new academic standards in English language arts and math. These standards are known as the Common Core and are called “common” because we share them with about 45 other states. Educators were instrumental in the development of these standards.

Focus is still on fundamental skills and understanding, but with opportunities for innovative and creative thinking.

Our experience as educators tells us that these standards will raise the bar for South Dakota students, which we believe to be a good thing.

Students must be able to think critically, to problem solve and to apply the knowledge and skills they learn in the classroom to the world around them. This is what the Common Core standards challenge our students to do. This is a shift for both students and teachers — one that we are excited about. It requires our students to learn connections between concepts, to support views with evidence, and to apply skills and practices for purpose.

The Common Core standards are remarkable in their simplicity. A standard tells us what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade level. The following is an example from the second grade math standards: solve word problems involving dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies, using dollar and cent symbols appropriately.

The other standards are equally as straightforward, and we find them to be clear, concise and appropriate expectations for South Dakota students.

The standards do not tell us what textbook or instructional materials to use. Those are curriculum decisions made by local school boards and administrators. It remains the responsibility and privilege of individual South Dakota teachers to deliver that curriculum by designing learning experiences that engage, excite and motivate our students. These Common Core standards have already had a positive impact in our classrooms.

We believe in setting high expectations for our students, and we have confidence that South Dakota students will rise to the challenge. As professional educators, we have witnessed these phenomena time and again.

Granted, the transition to new standards is always a challenging process, and it will take some time to develop our students’ understanding and application of curriculum. We fully anticipate some bumps along the road. In the long run, however, we believe these standards provide the necessary foundation for an ever-changing and developing world of learning in the 21st century and hold great promise for the future of all.

— LuAnn Lindskov, of Isabel, is a secondary math and science teacher for the Timber Lake School District, and was named the 2014 South Dakota Teacher of the Year. Donna DeKraai, of Brookings, is a third-grade teacher in the Brookings School District; Mindy Foltz, of Rosholt, is a secondary math teacher in the Rosholt School District; Sonya Fossum, of Mitchell, is a first-grade teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary; and Tammy Jo Schlechter, of Hermosa, is a sixth- to eighth-grade math, social studies and reading teacher for the Custer School District.