Published in the Iola Register on May. 4, 2011.

Schools prepare for ‘sea-change’ in curriculum

By GRANT OVERSTAKE grant@iolaregister.com

Big changes are coming in the way public school students learn and teachers teach and progress is measured.
By the 2014-15 school year, course curriculum and assessments in essential subjects such as English language arts, math, science and social studies will look much different than they do today. The changes are so dramatic, they could be described as a sea-change, or, perhaps, a tidal wave.
Wide-eyed board members got a glimpse of that future at the USD 257 meeting Monday when Curriculum Director Gail Dunbar reviewed the Kansas Common Core Standards Transition Timeline from the state department of education.
The Kansas State Board of Education adopted the new standards for English language arts and math in October 2010. Since then, it has drafted a master plan to help guide schools in the transition.
The daunting complexity left longtime board member Buck Quincy scratching his head.
“You understand this?” Quincy asked Dunbar.
“Yes,” she replied, “There are some pretty major changes.”
Dunbar’s job is to help Iola schools phase out the old and bring in the new, a process that must be completed by the 2014-15 school year.
“It’s very timely for us to be working on this,” Dunbar told the board. “I had a curriculum meeting on Friday at the state level in Topeka and they were all saying that it was very important that you get started on this because those tests are going to be here, and you’d better not wait to start.”
Indeed, in Iola, the change has already begun. This year, the district’s teachers have been working with Dunbar to reframe math courses to match common core and ACT requirements.
“They deserve a lot of credit for how hard they’ve been working all year,” Dunbar said.

UP UNTIL NOW, each state had its own set of academic standards, so public school students at the same grade level in different states often achieved at different levels. The new, uniform standards are intended to allow states to provide all students with an equal opportunity for an education that will prepare them to go to college or enter the work force, regardless of where they live.
The common core curriculum has been adopted by legislatures in nearly every state and enjoys broad support from diverse quarters of society, from the National Education Association to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; the U.S. Army to The College Board.
According to a national website that explains the Common Core Curriculum, the new standards have been designed “to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and careers.”
The standards are in line with those in other countries to help guarantee American students are competitive in the emerging global marketplace.
Another purpose of the Common Core State Standards is to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The new K-12 standards are being developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and education experts nationwide.
During her presentation to the board, Quincy asked Dunbar if the changes would still take effect “even if Obama is defeated in the next election and Brownback is defeated in the next election.”
Dunbar replied, “My guess is, yes. Because the common core has occurred outside of a political environment. It hasn’t come down from the feds. It’s been a group of people from the states who have gotten together. We need a common curriculum in this country, so I don’t see this changing.”
In a followup question, Quincy asked, “Who do we look for to finance it?”
Dunbar replied, “It’s kind of scary when you think about all of the new and different things that we are going to have to do with no money to do it.”
In the classroom, the coming changes in curriculum means that students may be introduced to skills and concepts at different grade levels than they have in the past.
“They’ve moved some skills around,” Dunbar said. “They’ve changed grade levels at which skills and concepts are learned and at what depth.
“At the high school level in particular, there’s much more of a focus on real-world application and it goes a lot deeper,”  she added. “There will be less breadth and much more depth, all the way across the board. So there’ll be fewer things to be learned at the grade levels, but the expectation is that we hit those things harder and get kids to really function more than just learn them at the surface level.”
Regarding assessments, Dunbar said, “The process is going to look quite a bit different. We’re not totally sure yet, but they’re talking about some smaller, more formative, interim assessments throughout the year, with a final assessment at the end of the year that would be a computer-adapted assessment.
She added, “They’re also considering a growth model for accountability for each student, so they’ll look at how they score in their first assessments and do a projection of how they should score for the rest of their school years, and that’s what annual yearly progress will be based on, or whatever they call it in the new assessment.”
English and math were the first subjects chosen because they are skills upon which students build skill sets in other subject areas. They are also the subjects most frequently assessed for accountability purposes. Science and social studies will be added next, Dunbar said.
Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others still must decide how the standards are to be met. And teachers will still need to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.
That’s where Dunbar comes in.
“It’s going to be a lot to do in a short period of time for everyone,” she said. “But I think as those new assessments come on board, our staff will be glad that we had all of this in place to help us.”