HIGHER LEARNING REQUIREMENTS BEING SET FOR K-12 CLASSROOMS Common Core Curriculum Raises Standards Nationwide

Article excerpt

Borah Elementary kindergartner Breegan Justice has her height measured in feet, using the heel-to-toe method, during a math lesson at the school in Coeur d'Alene earlier this month. The school has started a new curriculum including Common Core math.

Borah Elementary kindergartner Alex Sande studied the number 6 during class this month. Common Core math will teach more critical thinking.

Unless you're an educator, state lawmaker or K-12 policy wonk, you might not have heard about the Common Core.

If you have children in school, however, you soon will.

These new national standards for math, reading, writing and spelling will touch every public school in 46 states, including Washington and Idaho, and the District of Columbia. They'll raise academic standards, require new assessment tests - for Washington, the third set in less than a decade - and cost more money. They'll also raise the dropout rate, at least for a few years.

The learning requirements, officially called the Common Core State Standards, are coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and supported by the U.S. Department of Education.

"The Common Core sets a national (academic) standard higher than any (current) state standard in the nation," said Randy Dorn, Washington's K-12 superintendent. "It's a different way of teaching. It teaches higher-level thinking standards."

It gives "our kids a chance in a global economy," he added.

How are the standards different?

Common Core replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, which allowed each state to set its own learning standards. The result was that high school graduates across the nation left school with different levels of knowledge and abilities.

The new learning standard for K-12 students, first drafted in 2009, defines what students should know and be able to demonstrate at each grade level in math and language. So, the math and language skills taught in a Washington third-grade classroom will be the same as thosetaught in an Alabama third-grade classroom.

For students in Washington and Idaho, the new curriculum means math and language will be taught as much as a grade level higher than the current standards, according to district officials in both states.

"In mathematics, Washington was fairly close," said Steven Gering, Spokane Public Schools' chief academic officer. Common Core will spark a significant change in language instruction, however. Changes will come in types of vocabulary and the complexity of texts, and there will be much more nonfiction and more technical writing.

In Idaho, math instruction will be a grade level higher and in language, "I would say it's more the complexity; digging into the text when you are writing about something or answering something and citing the evidence," said Matt Handelman, Coeur d'Alene School District's assistant superintendent. "This increases the percent of time students are spending in an informational text."

For a long time, the thought among educators was that kids first are taught to learn to read, then they're taught to read to learn, Gering said. "Now some educators are saying that was a mistake: Both need to happen at the same time.

"We don't have time to teach the content that kids need to know and the Common Core State Standards if you treat them as two things" Gering said.

In addition to the shifts in curriculum, the teaching procedure has to change, Handelman said. …