SHERIDAN — Common Core State Standards, a set of standardized teaching guidelines, has been rolled out in most states and Wyoming is in its third year of implementation. The new standards have challenged students and teachers to meet new guidelines that are the same in almost every state in the country.
The standards were designed to create a standard across the nation, so that fourth graders in Wyoming are learning the same math concepts as fourth graders in Florida. Proponents of the standards have said that with previous differing standards in each state, some students were learning the same concepts at different grade levels and some students were more prepared than others when they entered a college or university after high school graduation.
Opponents of CCSS say there was no local input into the standards from Wyoming educators, there was not enough opportunity for Wyoming parents and teachers to provide input before the State Board of Education adopted the standards, that some of the standards are too rigorous and some are not rigorous enough. However, for many local educators, the view of the standards is mostly positive.
“It really hasn’t changed how we teach,” said Deb Hofmeier, principal at Tongue River Elementary. “It might have changed where things happened (in the school year). It is a bit more rigorous than what we’ve done so we have to change up when we do things. Kindergarten used to be fun and games. Now kindergarten has a lot of academic work that gets done. What our third graders are doing now compared to when I taught third grade is much more rigorous.” Hofmeier said the school and district has been able to incorporate the CCSS fairly easily, but notes that the CCSS is only part of what students learn.
“In district one we have taken the Common Core and we have built in what we need in our schools,” she explained. “We add to it for what our kids around here need. We understand that our kids need to have that love for learning and love for reading.
We are not going to just teach you how to read, but to love to read.
The Common Core is a framework that you build from. And we are finding if you teach it right, the kids really can rise to meet the standards.”
Rita Geary and Stacy Preston have taught English at Sheridan High School for eight and seven years respectively, with many years of prior teaching experience as well. In general, both of them also agree that adoption of CCSS has been valuable.
“It is a positive thing,” said Geary. “We see them as good and beneficial for the students in real world application. I think the overall goal is to make kids more independent learners, pulling resources from a number of places rather than just ‘this is what my teacher gave me.’ It is taking the knowledge of what we learn in the classroom and being able to apply it in a lot of different areas.”
Geary and Preston noted that there have always been standards for student learning, but previously, state standards were in place and states often differed widely in which topics they taught at which grade levels. These discrepancies often showed up when students moved between states or even between school districts, as well as on standardized tests such as the ACT, which all students are required to take as juniors.
“I think you probably saw the different results state by state,” said Preston. “Now that the states are aligning to the core curriculum, we have something comparable. We live in such a transient nation too; kids are moving all the time. That makes it really hard if you are the smartest kid in one place and they go someplace and they are at the bottom and go someplace else and they are in the middle.”
“In the past we get kids from Florida or California or Texas or whatever that are not on the same page,” echoed Sue Wilson, a sixth grade math teacher at Sheridan Junior High. “At least with the standard it will allow everyone to be similar and our society is so mobile, that is really important anymore.”
The standards currently cover math and English/language arts but include literacy standards for social studies and standards for science, art and world languages are in the working.
The standards are voluntarily adopted by states. Wyoming adopted the standards in June 2012. According to www.corestandards.org, Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota and Virginia are the only states that have not adopted the standards.
Although CCSS has been adopted by states voluntarily, some opponents claim that with a national standard, local autonomy in what gets taught and how, has been lost. However, Rebecca Adsit, an eighth-grade English teacher at SJH said she maintains the freedom to teach with whatever methods she feels are most appropriate and effective for her students.
“One of the things I love about teaching here is that I feel like with implementing these standards, how I get kids there is up to me and by working with my colleagues,” she said. “I am respected as a professional to determine that and assess them and find out if they have gotten to the standard or not. There is no set curriculum. The standards are not a curriculum.”
“Because you can meet that standard in different ways, I think teachers are still using their creativity to weave those ideas and skills in,” said Geary, in response to the same question. “And the kids are responding. That is the exciting part. We don’t have as many D’s and F’s as we did before because kids are enjoying it more. I think they are more engaged.”
One explanation of the standards is that they cover fewer topics, but cover them more deeply and thoroughly than previous standards. This statement was supported by Wilson.
“That is true at least in math. The biggest thing in math is there is less calculation and more in-depth thinking,” she said. “That doesn’t mean problems are harder, it means their thinking is more in-depth. There’s more problem solving and that is where the big change is. When we get to where we need to be, it will be much deeper and less wide. The kids have to really understand why they do the skills the way they do them.”
Despite her positive view of the standards, Geary said it has been a challenge, learning the standards and adjusting to them over the past three years.
“It is more focused work where you are trying to get the kids to a certain level and say this is how I know they got to that level and if they didn’t get to the level, what are we going to do about it?” said Geary. “It has been a lot of work, but teachers work hard anyway!”