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Thursday, 19 December 2013 13:17

Common Core: Further Understanding the Curriculum

By | News

SARATOGA SPRINGS — At last Thursday’s “Parents’ Guide to the Common Core State Standards, K-6” Parent University program meeting at the Saratoga Springs High School, Dr. Joseph Greco and Director of Humanities Integration Freya Mercer tried to make the Common Core curriculum a little more clear.

Whether someone is for or against Common Core, there are ways to help the students with work at home and better understand the curriculum’s purpose.

Dr. Greco, K-12 director of math, science and technology integration, helped present parents with the differences between the Common Core curriculum, state assessments and the teacher evaluation program (APPR).

As an example, he asked parent participants to solve the problem “3/4 minus 2/3” and explain their mathematical reasoning. 

“While many parents were able to draw from their grade-school experiences to solve the problem, the difficulty came when they were asked to explain what they did and why they did it,” Greco said. “In the past, students were given a set of rules and procedures to memorize in an effort to answer questions quickly. While parents recognized that they needed to find a common denominator, they were unable to articulate why that was necessary and why their answer of 1/12 made mathematical sense.  Students now are being asked to get their hands dirty with the content and be able to not only solve the problems with accuracy, but be able to explain why the math works.”

The following Saratoga TODAY question and answer session with Dr. Greco further explains the challenges of Common Core’s implementation, the difficulties faced by students and the resources available to further help understand program.

Q. Are there any big misconceptions about Common Core?

A. One of the biggest misconceptions with the Common Core is that students are unable to participate in such high-level conversations regarding mathematics.  While this was initially a challenge, the Saratoga teachers have done an outstanding job of repackaging their instruction to allow students to share their mathematical reasoning with others and work collaboratively to solve complex and real-world mathematical problems?

Q. What have you seen as the biggest complaint?

A. The biggest complaint regarding Common Core has been the accelerated pace of the implementation.  This is a completely new way of instructing students.  This is not the way that parents learned it in school and this is not the way teachers were formally trained.  As a result, teachers from across the state were forced to learn, unlearn, and relearn alongside their students. 

Q. Have more parents been coming around to the idea of Common Core?

A. The Common Core curriculum has become politicized over the past year in New York.  While there has been much debate over the accelerated timeline for implementation, the number of high-stakes assessments, and the linking of these assessments to teacher performance, there has been support from both teachers and parents on what students are learning and how they are learning it.   Now that teachers and students have already had one complete year of Common Core level instruction, we are already seeing an increase in students’ level of understanding.

Q. With Common Core standards currently being limited to English and math, are there any plans of extending to other subjects in the future?

A. While the focus has been on English and mathematics, social studies and science are still very much alive in the Common Core.  The design is to break down the compartmentalization of the subjects and instead inter-mix the content under the umbrella of English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics.  For example, students are now reading more informational or non-fiction text as a result of the Common Core shifts.  This is translating to social studies and science being read, discussed and written about during a student’s English instruction.  There is still work to do to ensure students are receiving the hands-on experience needed for deep understanding of Science or Engineering topics, but we are moving in the right direction.

Q. In your opinion, why is there a need for Common Core?

A. The Common Core curriculum in math is critical in providing our students with the skills they need to pursue jobs in the science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) industries should they choose to do so.  When our instruction focused on the memorization of rules and procedures, students struggled with more complex algebraic questions.  As a result, students began to lose confidence in their ability to do well in math and ultimately chose courses and careers outside of the STEM field.  Common Core focuses on the deep understanding of a focused curriculum.  Students don’t learn tricks—they learn math.  With a deep understanding, students are able to build confidence in their problem-solving abilities and ultimately choose to take more challenging math and science courses as they progress through their educational pathway.

Q. What do you say to a parent who says, “It just teaches kids how to take standardized tests”?

A. The Common Core curriculum is actually very difficult to assess.  In the past, our assessments focused on rote memorization of facts, with little emphasis on deep understanding.  The new assessments are now asking students to design, critique, and infer at a very high level.  There is a high degree of writing that is now being asked of our students.  As a result, students across the state have struggled.  With time, students will improve their level of understanding, their communication skills and their stamina for such focused high-level thinking.

Q. Does it limit a teacher’s freedom to teach away from the statewide curriculum? And do you think that is something that should worry parents of students?

A. Teaching in New York has always been based on a set of standards for each grade level or course.  The Common Core has basically replaced those previous state standards for teachers.  The one difference, however, is that the Common Core has components such as the “8 Mathematical Practices,” which are instructional guidelines to help with the implementation of the Common Core Curriculum.   Saratoga Springs has recently assigned trained math coaches to each elementary building to help with this implementation.  These math coaches have been helping to improve the Saratoga math program by working directly with elementary teachers to improve their classroom delivery of the Common Core.

Q.   Q. If you could list the top three benefits of Common Core, what would they be?

      A. Less content, more focus. A deep understanding of the math and less reliance on the memorization of algorithms. And real-world application of the math so students understand how these lessons apply to their daily lives.

      Q. Do you agree that Common Core puts added pressure on students? Or is this another misconception?

A.    A. Although there may be less content to cover, the Common Core curriculum does put more pressure on students.  Students can no longer be passive learners and must now take ownership of their education.  They will need to actively participate in classroom discussions.  They will need to listen to the ideas of others and be able to engage in conversation regarding the course content.  Student will not only have to show their work, but they will now be required to explain their thinking with supporting evidence.  This will be a challenge, but we have strong students, supportive parents and a dedicated faculty that are determined to provide our students with the best possible education.

A.    Q. Is there anything else that you have either liked or disliked about the curriculum?

Q.    A. While many teacher are supportive of the common core, there is still concern that some topics, especially at the younger grades, are developmentally inappropriate.  Kindergarteners are entering school at vastly different levels of readiness.  As a result, our teachers are working to close any initial gaps while still preparing these students for the rigorous content of the Common Core.

Q.    Q. What have you told parents they can do to help?

A.    A. During the presentation, parents were given information on the various educational shifts, what their students would be seeing in class, and what parents could do to help support their child at home.  (Greco also referred parents to Engage New York’s website that provides further information for parents: http://www.engageny.org/sites/default/files/resource/attachments/parent_workshop_backpack_guide.pdf

Parents also submitted questions that were answered and posted on the Saratoga Springs City School District’s Website. More information on the presentation and upcoming Parent University events can be seen at www.saratogaschools.org.




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