Common Core sparks debate in La., beyond

By By Kara Carrier / American Press

Common Core State Standards have so far been adopted by 45 states, including Louisiana, and full implementation of the standards

began this year in Calcasieu Parish.

According to the state Department of Education’s website, CCSS are “fundamental descriptions of reading, writing and math

skills that focus on the ability to think independently.”

The goal of Common Core, according to

the Louisiana Believes website, is to “level the playing field” and make

our students

“college and career ready.” The site says Louisiana has

consistently ranked at or near the bottom of National Assessment of

Educational Progress reports.

The increased rigor of CCSS, officials

say, will help put Louisiana students on par with those of other states;

ease the transition

for students transferring between states; and better prepare

students to compete and succeed after graduation.

Judy Vail, Common Core coordinator for

the Calcasieu Parish School Board, said Louisiana has had standards for

years that

were previously called grade-level expectations, or GLEs. “Common

Core requires more independent thinking to solve problems,

like the American workforce demands,” she said.

Vail said that when looking at Tennessee’s scores in the 2013 NAEP report, educators saw for the first time that Common Core

made a difference. Tennessee had the biggest increase in math and reading scores compared with the last report.

“Which makes sense because they got the

most money with the Race to the Top grant, which was a big federal

grant,” Vail said.

“Obviously, they do say that part of the reason their score

increased so much from 2011 to 2013 was their buying in to CCSS.”

Vail said educators historically haven’t seen that type of growth in NAEP scores. “By 2013 Tennessee had had that grant for

two years. So it was really growing,” she said.

Standard development

CCSS was developed by the National Governors Association, the nonprofit group Achieve and the Council of Chief State School

Officers.

The federal government didn’t develop

the standards. But it does offer millions of dollars to states that

adopt the new standards

through the Race to the Top grant. Louisiana was awarded $17.4

million in December 2011 for four years.

According to the Louisiana Believes website, “states, including Louisiana, sent educators and other experts to participate

in the development of the new standards aligned to college and career expectations.”

These groups developed the CCSS, but each state designs and implements its own curriculum around the standards.

Controversy

In Calcasieu Parish, after much uproar

from frustrated parents and teachers, the School Board voted in November

to slow implementation

of CCSS.

Superintendent Wayne Savoy said he wanted teachers to adapt to the standards before they were assessed on them.

“No one is against higher standards,”

he said. “But if your job is dependent on an assessment — your job and

your effectiveness

as a teacher — you’re going to have a concern to be sure that

there’s a real connection between what’s your job and what you’re

rated as a teacher in the classroom truly measures.”

Mixed reactions

Nancy Frank, a third-grade teacher at Brentwood Elementary, is in favor of the standards but was concerned about timing.

“Common Core was kind of thrown on us

this year, but the best thing they did was make the decision to slow

down,” Frank said.

“Parents have not been taught this way. I have not been taught

this way. So the parents need a chance to learn. It’s probably

harder for the parents than it is for the students.”

Although Frank, who has been teaching

for nine years, wasn’t thrilled with the timing of CCSS being fully

implemented in Louisiana,

she said her class is thriving and she loves teaching this way.

What has helped her, Frank said, is research, and she uses a state website to find tools for teachers.

“There are a lot of resources out there,” she said. “The main thing is going out and finding information.”

Frank agreed that teaching the CCSS is harder and more work, but she said it’s much more rewarding. “One of the things I noticed

is that it’s deeper,” she said.

“The students have to find evidence in an ELA lesson. They get a deeper understanding, and I get a deeper understanding. So

it’s so much better.”

Frank said teachers who are struggling with the new standards should find support and do as much research as possible.

“Everything I do in my classroom I did

not create,” she said. “I went online, found things, found ideas and I

tweaked it for

my kids. What might work for this class may not work for my next

class. Or what may work for one group may not work for the

next group. Some groups are more student-led; some need me more in

it.”

Vicky Johnston, a second-grade teacher at LeBleu Settlement, doesn’t completely agree with Frank’s assessment. Johnston said

she has been teaching since 1984 and has taught many different grades in those years.

She said she is not against the standards as a whole, but doesn’t like the gap it has created now between grades.

“It’s just the fact that they have bumped it up so much so now the grades below us did not get the foundation to do what we

are now doing in second grade,” Johnston said. “So the second-graders last year did not get what they are now expected to

do in the third grade. It’s caused big gaps and developmental problems.”

Johnston said that, for example, a kindergartner is now expected to explain how they got a math problem correct, when most

of them start school not even knowing their alphabet.

“They are also expected to write complete sentences before they even know the connection between letters and words. Kindergarten

teachers are having a rough time with this.”

According to Johnston, teachers last

year had a transitional period to incorporate some of the CCSS with the

GLEs. “We were

supposed to be in a transition for several years, but they bumped

it up and cut that and we are full-blown Common Core this

year.”

Johnston also said another concern is that most teachers don’t know what their assessment tests are going to be like.

“We know what to teach them, but there are so many ways to teach them now. For example, when we grew we did just a standard

algorithm — like 16 + 19 and you regrouped and brought your 10 over,” Johnston said.

“They don’t even do that in second grade anymore. There are model drawings and there are break-aparts and all these different

ways that parents don’t understand because we didn’t learn that way.”

Johnston said she is lucky because her school has a lot of support from the district. She said she is concerned about schools

that don’t have the support that she does.

“When you think about that, the whole

purpose of Common Core was that it didn’t matter if you went to school,

everybody was

learning the same thing,” Johnston said. “So if a child moved from

Arkansas to Louisiana, they would ease in. But if everyone

is not learning the same thing, it’s not common. Those gaps are

going to even get bigger.”

Johnston believes the state should have kept the transitional period and not rushed into full implementation. “No one was

able to properly adjust,” she said. “It’s going to take years to catch up. The Department of Education is only giving us a

one-year break on testing.”

Unlike Frank, Johnston said she and many other teachers’ main problem this year has been a lack of resources.

“Our old math book wasn’t aligned with Common Core, so we couldn’t use it,” she said. “We didn’t get our new math book, which

still has gaps in learning, until the week before school. So teachers didn’t have a chance to prepare.”

Johnston said alternate resources that she and other teachers found assume the students learned something the year before

that they actually didn’t. One of the Common Core-aligned books she has to use even has algebra.

“It is much more advanced,” she said. “This is second grade. They are expecting more out of children.”