Henderson Co. academic leaders explain implementation of common core, how new standards benefit "deeper" student achievement
hHenderson Gleaner, April 26, 2015

Henderson part of pioneering Common Core effort
by Erin Schmitt

For the past few years, there has been quite a national buzz around Common Core school standards.

In some ways, Kentucky helped pioneer the educational movement, becoming the first state to adopt and implement Common Core Standards.

So why have the standards been adopted in Kentucky and 42 other states?

“Because we were graduating too many students from high school across the nation that were not ready to go onto college and be properly prepared,” said Jo Swanson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at Henderson County Schools.

“We were graduating too many that had to take remedial college courses that cost their parents and them money and who were unsuccessful for too many years initially in college,” she continued. “We had to get better at preparing our students to be college or career ready.”

The effort to develop Common Core Standards was launched in 2009 by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State Officers.

One purpose behind Common Core was to have a common agreement among states about what students should know at every grade level. Educators began with determining benchmarks at a national level in mathematics and English/language arts.

As of this year, every state except Indiana, Alaska, Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Minnesota have adopted the Common Core Standards, although Minnesota did adopt the English/language arts standards.

Kentucky became the first state to adopt Common Core State Standards in February 2010. They were subsequently incorporated into the Kentucky Core Academic Standards.

Since then, Kentucky has also adopted Next Generation Science Standards, which were also developed by team of national educators. Socials studies standards are expected to be added later.

The new English/language arts and math standards were first taught in Kentucky public schools during the 2011-12 year. Public school students will sit for K-PREP, the state mandated test that assesses what students have learned, for the fourth time next month. K-PREP is aligned with Common Core Standards.

Standards versus curriculum

Standards shouldn’t be confused with curriculum, explained Swanson.

Curriculum is what educators teach. With guidance from the district, teachers still determine what is taught in their classrooms.

Standards are an outline or framework of what students need to know and learn at each grade level.

A key difference with Common Core Standards are that they are more rigorous.

When Swanson first became an elementary principal, “Sarah, Plain and Tall” was taught on a fifth- or sixth-grade level. The chapter book is now a staple in second and third-grade classrooms and the students can easily read the book.

“We had a glass ceiling on students, thinking that they couldn’t read that difficult material at earlier ages,” she said. “We’re finding with better teaching they can.”

There have been other teaching shifts. English and language arts standards now emphasize informational text reading rather than fiction. Reading in college courses is geared toward information text in other subjects beyond English, so to prepare students to be college-ready, students in younger grades read more informational text.

As adults, people may read fiction for pleasure, but will be more prone to read informational texts found in newspapers, magazines and instructional manuals.

In mathematics, there’s a greater focus on math concepts and a reduction of how many math concepts are taught at one time.

“We’re trying to teach deeper, not broader with Common Core,” Swanson said.

Another key difference in Common Core Standards is the emphasis on educational coherence. Educators build a foundation and add to it each year.

Students in kindergarten through second grade are taught concepts, skills and problem solving related to addition and subtraction. As third through fifth-graders, they tackle multiplication and division of whole numbers and fractions.

By sixth grade, students learn about ratios and proportional relationships, along with early algebraic expressions and equations. They follow that up in seventh grade with ratios and proportional relationships, as well as arithmetic of rational numbers. In eighth grade, students are doing linear algebra and linear functions — subjects that wouldn’t have been broached until sophomore year of high school under the old standards.

All public school students take the K-PREP exam, but accommodations can be approved for special needs students to help level the playing field. For example, a student evaluated with a significant learning disability in reading may have an adult read the text to them or listen to an audio of the text while taking the test.

No student or their family has challenged Henderson County Schools to opt out of K-PREP testing. If a situation arose where a student opted out, the district would receive a zero on that student’s scores, said Superintendent Marganna Stanley.

Results after implementation

Though state testing scores took an expected nose-dive during the first year due to the increased difficulty and unfamiliarity with the assessment, the results in subsequent years have been encouraging.

Kentucky students who have had more exposure to the standards have “made faster progress in learning” than their peers who followed the older state standards, according to a study conducted by the American Institute for Research with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Although cautious to fully link student achievement gains to Common Core Standards, the report’s authors stated that fears about the standards “impact on student outcomes may be overstated,” according to a news release issued by AIR.

“Kentucky implemented the Common Core and within the first couple of years, it overcame the challenges associated with the transition and its student college-readiness improved,” Zeyu Xu, an AIR principal researcher and lead author of the report. “While the reasons for this require further study, it is significant that student experienced a net gain in the early years of Common Core rollout.”

Since 2007, Kentucky has required all high school juniors to take the ACT, which is a predictor of how well a student will perform in college. In its study, AIR researchers examined three groups of students: those who took the ACT in 2010-11 before Common Core Standards were introduced; those who took the ACT in 2011-12 after one year of implementation; and those in 2012-13 after two years with Common Core.

Researchers found that students from the last two groups made more progress in academic proficiency on the ACT than the first group, though all three started high school with similar scores. And the greater progress for students exposed to Common Core Standards was made at both low and high poverty schools.
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