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5 Common Core priorities for the new school year

Common Core states have a number of goals for 2014-2015

common-coreAs schools gear up to dive back into learning, states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards are outlining their priorities and are identifying their top goals for the standards.

The Common Core State Standards have been, and continue to be, a hot-button topic, with some states deciding not to adopt the Common Core while still revamping their standards, and with others adopting the standards but later pulling out.

One of the biggest misconceptions lies in the fact that many people believe the standards to be curriculum–in fact, states are working to develop a curriculum that supports the Common Core standards and learning goals.

Five planning priorities could help educators and school leaders as they implement the standards for the coming school year.

(Next page: Five Common Core planning priorities)

It’s ultimately important to begin with the end in mind, said Kevin Baird, chairman of the board at the nonprofit Center for College and Career Readiness, during an edWeb webinar. This means the educator must identify the outcome to be assessed and to define what it looks like.

“Your content must look different,” he said.

1. Understand the goal

The Common Core’s overarching goal is college and career readiness, and educators can drill down to identify learning outcomes that correlate to career readiness. For instance, critical thinking and analytical reasoning, the ability to solve complex problems, and effective communication are all skills that today’s students will need in the workforce.

Alarmingly high drop-out rates and the percent of college freshman who need to take at least one remedial course mark an opportunity for school leaders and educators to craft a curriculum that supports these goals to the fullest extent.

“The goal is not passing anymore–the goal is making sure you don’t need remediation,” Baird said.

“Everything now is about the skill…how are you focusing your classrooms on skills and not content?”

2. Understand the standards

It may seem like a no-brainer, but in order to prepare students for a solid education, educators must understand the Common Core standards.

To truly effect change, everyone must be willing to jump in and do the work necessary to elevate teaching and learning.

Educators must understand what depth of knowledge looks like, and should align their goals so that students are achieving with standards written up to depth of knowledge 4 in English/language arts and up to 5 in math.

3. Know the student

Where does each student stand in terms of where they read and what their math skills look like?

Teaching students how to read a textbook, and how to read a math and science textbook, their math and science achievement on new assessments will improve.

If educators have progress monitoring data, they should use it, and bring it to department heads, department meetings, professional learning communities, and other outlets to get the most out of that data.

“This year will be the most important data-driven year of any, because it’s really about understanding where the student is to take that next step,” Baird said.

Librarians can examine Lexile ranges of items students are checking out of the library, or can analyze Lexile ranges of the areas where students seem to be proficient, to get an idea of whether content used in the classroom is appropriate and challenging enough.

Teaching math skills can be accomplished through text, in the form of math problems. Traditionally, students have not had enough time to master the math skills they’ll need to be fluent in math and succeed in later academic years.

“If you don’t know where your kids are, you don’t know where to take them,” said Baird.

4. Know the content

What is the content really like? There are a number of resources that educators can use to help connect students with resources, and giving students control over the core curriculum resources they access can help them expand their learning.

Always offer more than one resource or text, to give students variety, and ensure they’re accessing multiple things – charts, graphs, video, audio, and more.

When it comes to complexity in the classroom, having multiple texts, a range of texts, and different resources is key, Baird said.

5. Know the priority actions

The initial focus in English/language arts should be on reading acceleration and on building student capability with complex text and academic- and domain-specific vocabulary.

In math, initial investments should be focused on foundational skills and fluency in K-8. Time for depth is critical, and ensuring that students don’t have gaps in those foundational skills is essential.

“None of this happens without leadership development,” Baird said. Research notes that the key element in schools is the development of the principal.

“We must make sure that our principals are building leadership teams–that they know as much, if not more than, the classroom teachers know so that they can provide those supports.”

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Laura Ascione

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