Parents may be an important component in Common Core standards

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Fri., Nov. 1, 2013
- Contributed Photo

When Connecticut legislators voted to adopt Common Core state standards in the summer of 2010, they joined 47 other states in a wave of educational reform. Those states, five territories and the District of Columbia have agreed to implement the same set of standards in math and English language arts for the first time in the history of the U.S.

Those standards are the result of years of work put in by educators, researchers, policy analysts and a slew of others who have put their heads together to come up with rigorous yet reasonable standards. They are meant to increase student proficiencies, be better indicators of true learning, and create a level playing field for students between schools and districts and from one state to another.

Prior to Common Core, each state had its own set of standards. Reformers claimed that different standards made it impossible to compare student achievement. Critics also claimed many of those state standards were too low. In research comparing educational benchmarks with those in other countries, U.S. students came up short. Proponents of Common Core believe the new standards will help U.S. students get a better education, be more competitive in a global economy, and be career and college ready by the time they graduate from high school.

The deadline for testing those standards is coming right up. Most towns in Connecticut have opted to give their students a new test to measure how students are taking to the standards. The Smarter Balanced Field Test will take place in March, 2014, and replace CMTs and CAPTs for most districts.

“Think of it as new standards, new tests, new scores,” said Kelly  Donnelly, Connecticut State Department of Education Communication Officer. Smarter Balance has been  piloting the tests for several years, but this will be the first field test in Connecticut.

The tests will be conducted on computers, and that adds another layer of complexity to the test results. “Technology lends itself to make it more learner-responsive,” said Plainfield Superintendent of Schools Kenneth DiPietro. An unsuccessful answer might trigger the computer model to give a student a different question which would allow a student to be successful, but at a lower level. Computerization could also allow for the possibility of tests being taken multiple times, he said.

Because the Common Core Standards are new to students, teachers and administrators alike, there is an effort underway to educate parents about the standards, about the need for teachers to adjust their curriculums to fit them, and the likelihood that test scores may initially show a decline in student achievement.

According to DiPietro, the new assessments will be a fairer measurement of student progress. But he expects the tests to take three years to implement. “The first year is the field test. The second year will be a benchmark year. Tests in the third year will give a true measurement of what students have learned.

“It’s a set of clear, fewer, higher standards which set expectations  for what students should know in a given grade so that by time they graduate from high school, they are ready for the rigors of college and career,” said Donnelly. “The heart of Common Core is supporting student success.”

“The first thing parents need to know is that Common Core Standards are based on the same expectations that parents have valued for education in the last 20 years,” DiPietro said. “The difference is the depth to which students will be taught in any given year. Parents need to understand that there might be things we used to teach in a certain grade that we won’t teach until the next grade.”

For example, a third grade student used to scoring well in narrative essays may not do as well with persuasive and expository essays. Those scores will be an indication of lesson plans that may not have covered all three genres of writing. “It will take some students time to make up for the gap in lesson plans,” DiPietro said. “Teachers will have to fill in gaps of what wasn’t taught in prior grades. After we get through one year, those gaps are going to be virtually erased.”

Killingly Board of Education member Richard Murray believes the tests will give teachers, students and parents a better understanding of where children are in their educational careers. “We need to explain to parents that test scores may be much lower than previous test scores,” he said. “When you do a new assessment the scores generally go down. It’s up to us to educate people that scores will go down, but they will be meaningful scores.”

Windham Public Schools Communication Officer Kerry Markey urges parents to be aware of the learning expectations for their children under the new standards. “I’d tell parents to educate themselves on what the common core standards are,” she said.

The National Parent Teacher Association has created two-page parents’ guides to student success for grades kindergarten through eight as well as high school math and English. Those guides provide overviews of what a child will learn by the end of each grade in math and English language arts/literacy. The guides give examples of work students will be asked to do focusing on the most important topics. They suggest topics parents might want to cover with teachers and how parents can help children at home.

For instance, a third grade student will work on solving word problems with multiplication and division. She will work on multiplying numbers with more than one digit and understanding fractions. In ELA, she will work on understanding books and stories with fluency. She will be asked to identify main points in a text, show logical connections between sentences and paragraphs, and conduct short research projects.

The guides give parents a general idea about grade-specific educational goals. “If parents have a good knowledge of what their kids are expected to learn, they can support them at home,” Markey said. “Our challenge now is to make sure we’re letting parents know what these changes to the standards mean.

“We all have to get involved,” Murray said. “We’re all learning as we go.” Parents can learn more by attending forums and board meetings, by getting involved in PTA and school governance councils or engagement committees.

“It’s a good thing, but there is a little fear and concern on the part of parents,” DiPietro said. “Parents have to realize the reasons for this change. We need all 50 states to say, 'This is what a learned student should know.' Now there is common belief in what kids should know. Personally I think there is merit in it.”

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