Schools ready to teach Common Core standards
When school starts on Aug. 14 in the Mountain Home School District it will be teaching to a set of new standards adopted by the state known as Common Core.
Common Core is essentially some new tests in basic curriculum and a concept that schools in the 45 states that have now adopted the program will all try to teach to a common standard.
Theoretically, it should be easier for a student to transfer from a school district in one state to another district in some other state because the standards and concepts being taught at each grade level will be the same. That's important in the Mountain Home School District where students are constantly entering and leaving the district each year because of personnel transfers at the airbase.
Common Core standards does not mean, however, that each school district across the country has to use the same curriculum, Supt. of Schools Tim McMurtrey said.
"It's not about the curriculum, it's about the standards," he said. "We can still teach (a subject) the way we want, so our freedom is still there, but the standards, what the kids are expected to learn, is common."
The new standards are a subtle change from what most schools had been teaching. Instead of just teaching math to students, now those students will be expected to use the math in real-world situations -- in effect, more story problems.
"It's taking that next step," McMurtrey said, "from showing what they've been taught to demonstrating they can actually use it."
The same applies to reading. It isn't enough anymore for a student to simply be able to show they can read a sentence or paragraph. Now, they have to show that they understand and can analyze what they read.
"It's what we've always been aiming for," McMurtrey said, "but now the tests will more accurately show whether or not we're doing it."
Gone are the ISAT tests, which the district used to chart student progress over the years and identify areas for targeted remedial work. Now, the district will have to set up a whole new set of baseline date for each student, based on the Common Core tests.
To prepare for the changeover, virtually every professional training day held by the district for teachers last year focused on the Common Core standards and how to adjust curriculum to meet the new standards -- including coordinating instruction between classes.
"It's a different way of teaching," McMurtrey said, noting that under the program no given class will stand alone. Learning will be coordinated across disciplines whenever possible.
Literature classes, for example, will reinforce history classes by having students read works from or about the same period of time being studied in the history class, and the history instructor will be expected to make sure the students use correct grammar and spelling on their essays, as taught in composition classes.
"There's a large focus on language arts," McMurtrey said. "I see all this as a good thing. "It will be a lot of work (for the teachers and administrators), but that's OK. We can always improve," he said.
School registration will get underway in less than a month, on Aug. 5, with school starting Aug. 14. The first full week of school is heavily focused on conducting baseline testing of students.