Teachers Say New Education Standards Challenge Students

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A new set of curriculum standards for math and English called the Common Core State Standards will be in place in all Ohio schools by the start of the next academic year. Local teachers who’ve seen it phased in or who’ve received training say it’ll be a learning curve for them, but it will ultimately better prepare students for their career and college readiness.

The learning standards, which 44 other states, the District of Columbia and four territories have also voluntarily signed onto, explain in detail what a student is expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of his or her education. The new standards do not require a particular curriculum.

Some argue the standards are a form of governmental overreaching. Although the standards were not developed by the federal government (it was developed by states in 2009), states were given incentives to signing on through No Child Left Behind waivers and Race to the Top funding.

Still, teachers locally seem optimistic and excited for its potential.

The new standards, which replace ones created in 1989, were built from the top down, explained Tom Parsons, Athens City School’s curriculum director.

“As people began to look at the U.S. falling behind in global education and global industry, they asked, ‘What can we do to up the game a little bit?” Parsons said. “They asked ‘What do you need in the adult world?’ and worked backwards down to prekindergarten. Generally speaking, when you start with the end product, almost always the expectations at every other level will go up.”

How will that translate into the classroom? Nina Sudnick, a fourth-grade math teacher at West Elementary, said that means narrowing down the number of topics covered in a particular grade.

“Our math program used to be a mile wide and an inch deep,” Sudnick said. “Now, we’ll go into greater detail on fewer topics. That’s what all the international countries do to achieve their success.”

For example, fourth graders next year will focus on multiplication, division and the concept of fractions. Teachers aren’t limited to just teaching those areas, but students will be expected to know how to perform those tasks and why. Students will be given more time to delve deeper into the topics to avoid having to re-teach the concepts at higher grades, which has become common place, Sudnick said.

Other topics like data analysis (mean, median, mode) and probability will still be taught, but those are moved to other grade levels.

“I’m really excited about it,” Sudnick said. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

Donna Meade, Nelsonville-York’s reading intervention specialist, said English instruction will focus more on non-fictional complex text. Class time will involve more group discussion.

“What happens is the teacher will have to step back and the students will be more involved and more accountable for their learning,” Meade said.

While relinquishing some of the classroom control might be difficult for some teachers to get used to at first, Meade said it’s designed to create students who are lifelong learners who are also better problem solvers.

As with any transition, it will take time to get everyone caught up, Parsons said. He expects to see a significant drop in performance the first year because the standards are more demanding.

Although significant, the new standards are a small piece of a much bigger picture in education reform. New assessments will be in place by next year and so will new teacher and principal evaluation systems. The constant changes seem to be a trend in education lately, but Parsons said he hopes the new standards stick.

“I just hope they leave it alone long enough,” Parsons said. “These are better standards that set a high bar. It’s also one of the few times a lot of states have cooperated and collaborated with one another to achieve something this big. It could be important in a lot of ways.”