Last month I described the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). This month and next this column will discuss the Coast Unified School District’s implementation efforts, beginning with Coast Union High School.
The CCSS will be implemented over a two-year period, beginning this fall and culminating with the first full assessments in the spring of 2015. The new standards are aimed at graduating students fully ready for college or career by focusing on mastery of both skills and content.
“I think our students’ analytical and critical thinking will be better aligned with the new standards here at Coast than most schools because of how the kids are already learning,” said Wade Lawrence, CUHS principal. “When you can break a small class of 20 down into smaller groups, you can get to the kind of depth necessary.”
Tim May, a Coast English teacher, added, “When students arrive from middle school there aren’t a lot of wide eyes when I talk to them about something that’s new.”
However, he continued, “The biggest change will be in math because the new curriculum will change how they are going to learn it. It won’t be just about getting a result, but describing the process by which they got the result.” Discussing the specifics of implementation, May said, “What needs to happen is there needs to be dedicated time for teachers to sit down with each other, look at the standards and break down each one individually to determine whether they are teaching it now or how they need to change.”
Lawrence said he plans to “have the teachers do some of the practice assessment tests in the first semester so they can get an idea of what the testing is going to be like.”
The new testing regime uses computers to conduct the tests that will, according to May, incorporate “a new type of question called a non-traditional selected response — asking a question that has more than one right answer and you have to get all the answers to get the question correct.”
Lawrence pointed out that “with our technology, almost a one-to-one computer to student ratio and a one-to-one iPad ratio, the technological implementation, that would be a burden to many schools, will not be a burden to us.” Lawrence sees the new assessments, that will provide an apple-to-apples comparison of students across the nation, will be a real advantage because, “California is ahead of the game. My understanding is that our rigor, with the STAR Test, is ahead of many states.”
One of the primary concerns about the new curriculum is that current plans call for a single assessment for high school students at the end of 11th grade. Said Lawrence, “Assessments will be given for grades three through eight and then nothing for grades nine and 10. That’s a long gap.” May contributed, “That puts more of an onus on teachers to prepare their own benchmarks or standards based assessments so there’s no shock value when the students become juniors.”
The process of implementation, including choosing new texts, redesigning curriculum and classroom practice, preparing students for new testing methods and myriad other issues will consume CUHS faculty for the next two years and beyond. But the bedrock of high standards, a good faculty, small classes and students who have been prepared well, put Coast Union in a good position as the CCSS are adopted.