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If you want to know what the new Common Core standards are all about, listen to this morning’s edition of NHPR’s The Exchange

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The first three installments of NHPR’s series on the Common Core did not reflect my own experience of how New Hampshire teachers have engaged the move to the Common Core State Standards (I discuss that here), but today is a whole different story.  This morning’s report on the new “Smarter Balanced” test the kids will be taking characterizes the test and the challenges well.

And today’s  broadcast of The Exchange did a great service to the State in explaining what the Common Core is and how our schools are experiencing this big change.

NHPR education reporter Sam Evans-Brown was clear and knowledgeable.  Guest Nicole Heimarck, Director of Curriculum and Professional Development for SAU 39 (Amherst, Mont Vernon and Souhegan) and Debra Armsfield, a former Principal and the Director of Professional Learning in the Timberlane Regional District showed the deep level of understanding – wisdom, really – that many New Hampshire teachers get to draw upon as they make their new lesson plans.

The White Mountains Regional School District started its move to the Common Core years ago and has rolled it out in virtually all its classrooms.  Amy Parsons, a fifth-grade teacher at the Lancaster Elementary School in the White Mountains District, gave the perspective of a classroom teacher well grounded in the new standards.  

And Ben Dick, English teacher at Memorial High School in Manchester and president of the Manchester Education Association, provided a view from a school in which Common Core discussions have begun but the new curriculum has not yet been developed.

The audio of the broadcast will be here in the next couple of days and the podcast will be here.  In the meantime, you can listen to my recording of it here.

Here are some highlights:

Overview of the Common Core:

Nicole Heimarck:

[Common Core] is about more rigor – more rigor…in what students need to know and, equally important, its about rigor in what students can do, skills.  So we have spent a lot of time in our district discussing “habits of mind”…the notion of students being able to persevere, whether it’s in mathematics or reading – is very significant in these standards and its significant in our culture, in our communities….One of the big shifts we’re finding is that instead of students doing 35 or 40 math problems, they’re digging deep into one or two math problems – and challenging problems, problems that require them to think critically, to come up with multiple solutions…You need to have high expectations…and students feel a great deal of success when they recognize that they have accomplished something truly difficult.

How are the schools doing in implementing the Common Core?

Sam Evans-Brown:

It’s going to depend on the degree of emphasis that school is going to be able to place on incorporating not just the standards but the philosophy behind them [is that] we are really going to have a deeper learning.  We’re going to get these ideas and we’re going to know them cold….[Some districts] are just keep their heads above water and they are not going to be able to do the professional development required to get teachers to shift their practices…

There are schools that have done a lot of really good work on adopting the Common Core.  There are schools that are fully aligned.  White Mountain Regional School District is one, but they’re all over the place.  There are probably 5% that are already fully aligned….[but] there are other schools that are going to have to just muddle through and hope they are aligned well enough when the tests come along.

Debra Armsfield:

We’re spending a great deal of time on creating teacher capacity, because there are great differences in what we’re asking teachers to do now.

We anticipate that there will be a period in which we won’t be able to meet [the standards] necessarily, right out of the gate, but I think if you get the ultimate goal, which is college and career readiness, when we look ahead at what this might look like 5, 6,7 years down the road, it will be worth it in the end and I think that’s the general consensus from folks.

How big a change is the Common Core?

It’s a complete overhaul.  The way we’re doing business is very different.  There are others things in our State that are linked…We are looking at teachers setting student learning objectives…the way we’re looking at assessments and shifting into standards-based assessments…so there’s an awful lot that’s inherent in some of these shifts.

For a 3rd grade student, one of the things that you’re going to note would be a greater focus on math fluency and “habits of mind” and just thinking about mathematics…You’re going to see a greater emphasis on critical thinking and problem solving…You’ll see fewer concepts but taught as greater depth and higher levels of understanding…

You’re not going to leave anything by the wayside but you’re going shift the point at which things are introduced…the “progression of learning”…when is it most appropriate for certain concepts to be introduced…If we know that we want students entering algebra, what are the skills that students need to acquire?  And then [the standards] have just shifted where those skills are acquired.

What do you mean by “habits of mind?”

When we refer to habits of mind, we’re talking about how students think and problem solve.  We’re talking about a variety of things – how they communicate their thinking…understanding as a human being what your process is, as opposed to that rote learning and memorization.

How far along are you in teaching the Common Core?

Amy Parsons (5th grade teacher):

Our kids at the 5th grade level are feeling very comfortable with the language of the Common Core.  Our district has been working toward full implementation this year….The teachers have had a lot of professional development and experience in using them.

I really am enjoying the Common Core in the fact that I can integrate especially the language arts piece of it across my content areas…I have the benefit of being able to look at a lot of that nonfiction during my social studies time…and I think it lends itself really nicely to integration with science and social studies.

What about “teaching to the test?”

Nicole Heimarck:

Schools do not base their decisions on one test…

“Teaching to the test” is oftentimes an overused term.  The tests are developed from the standards.  The standards came first and the standards are based on a large amount of research and from best practices.  So the test goes directly back to the standards so if we’re developing curriculum…that is aligned to the standards, then you are teaching to the standards.  It’s not a matter of teaching to the test.

The standards are based on research and then the test evolved in a systematic process from there.

1 Comment

  1. Scott Marion says:

    Yes, in typical Laura Knoy fashion, this was a really informative show. I interact with lots of curriculum/assessment directors in the state and Nicole Heimarck is among the most knowledgeable and committed to doing a great job!

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