In spite of a new set of standards, the basic skills of math and reading have not changed.
Common Core is the new standard being used by nearly all the states, replacing the standards of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. The state Boards of Education set their own standards, but local teachers decide how best to teach to meet those standards.
Forty- five states have adopted Common Core, but Illinois has not. However, the state has set standards to establish clear expectations for what students should learn in English language arts and mathematics at each grade level in anticipation of adopting Common Core.
But Common Core has been met with much criticism.
“Common Core is good for the kids and is not radically different. We are teaching the same math and reading skills that we’ve always taught. We might teach them in a different order or with higher expectations than before,” said Shelbyville Superintendent Denise Bence.
“We’re getting kids to set up the problem, not just give them a problem to work,” Bence explained. “It’s more about making it more real world -- understanding the problem and setting up the problem. We’re still teaching the same skills, but teaching how to apply the skills - how to figure out for themselves instead of just giving information.”
In reading, students are asked to find information in what they read which strengthens comprehension skills in reading non-fiction texts. The answers may not be verbatim in the reading material.
“It’s getting kids to do the research in finding information,” Bence said. “And when they find the information, they have to know how to use it and apply it.”
The goal of Common Core is to better prepare Illinois students for success in college and the workforce in a competitive global economy.
The standards provide benchmarks for progress that each student should at the conclusion of each grade level. Teachers establish the best approach to help students meet or exceed those standards. Communication with parents will help them understand what those standards are at each grade level.
“We decide how best to apply the standards with our district and our students,” Bence said.
Bence added that communication among the staff is key to understanding what and how students are learning. The staff meets regularly to gauge how the students are doing compared to the standards. A variety of media and formatted are used to evaluate, create and distribute information.
“They’re adjusting the skills to make more sense along the way,” Bence said. “Teachers share their resource methods to better serve the students.”
No Child Left Behind was a federal act that increased the goals so that 100 percent of the students meet or exceed the standards by 2014. States could apply for a waiver to be exempted from that standard.
Because Illinois has not gotten the waiver, the state is still under No Child Left Behind, but is using Common Core assessments to be ready when the state adopts Common Core in 2015. Although states set their own standards, there is a sharing of resources from state to state. ISAT will include the Common Core questions this spring, but will be fully Common Core testing next year.
The American Diploma Project survey program found that approximately 40 percent of college freshmen, including those going to a two-year program, have to take remedial courses. They have also surveyed businesses to find what skills are needed in today’s workplace and what skills are lacking with today’s students.
Even with changes in the standards, the schools are using the same textbooks. Only the teaching method has changed.
Bence said that she believes the biggest misconception is that local schools have lost control of what is being taught.
“People need to ask what’s going on in the classroom. Come in and look. Ask teachers, ask administrators, or ask board members,” Bence said. “We ask parents to trust the local school board, administration and teachers to make learning better for the kids.”