Interviews

What the Teachers & Administrators Think

By: Grace Steck

Megan Fox - 5th Grade Teacher

What is your stance on Common Core and why?

I support an alignment of education. It's the best method of teaching-where all students are held to common expectation/goal. Teaching should be more consistent and this is why I feel it's a proactive move to align.


How are the new standards different from previous standards?

These standards are very specific, diverse and complex. They are more difficult to fully comprehend and determine what is being expected by the teacher. This poses a challenge and it can keep the consistency of alignment from being as consistent as intended, but with anything new/trend, work to decipher and process the standards is necessary.


How have the new standards changed your teaching style/methods?

I find myself covering different content at times. I find myself working on concepts that are more challenging and more "deep" rather than scratching the surface. Nearly all work can be "fit" into a CCSS, but it's also the other way around-the CCSS drive the content we teach.


Are there different levels or standards for more advanced students?

That's a variable for interpretation. The depth of the standards lends itself to different levels.


What are some examples of the differences that will affect the students?

Specifically in math for 5th grade, the expectation of knowledge and use of fractions is very specific and challenging. Last year, my partner teacher taught my math class, so I "missed" a year when the transition of CCSS started. This year I am constantly making a reference to the standards to be sure my content is covering the skill(s).

With CCSS movement, we have implemented many more assessments-benchmarking the students regularly. This is a major difference for kids in 5th grade now, compared to kids in 5th grade just a couple of years ago.


How does the testing interfere with normal class activities?

Testing makes it difficult to cover all the material from time to time. There is a sense of need to assess, make the goal, hit the target and some of the kids show anxiety about this (teachers too). Finding time to assess essentially requires that teachers fit "x" amount of content into fewer days/weeks. This impacts the pacing in class as well and that can adversely affect the kids as they can struggle to keep up.

Dennis Canny - High School Principal

What is your stance on the Common Core standards and why?

I am a supporter of the Common Core State Standards initiative. From a national perspective, there is a clear need for schools to have more meaningful assessments of student learning, an increase of students' skill mastery across core subject areas and a curriculum framework that leads to deeper understanding and conceptual thinking. This now famous video makes a solid argument for the Common Core- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5s0rRk9sER0 However, the downfall that I have observed has been in an ill prepared and underfunded plan for implementation.


How are the standards being implemented in the school/district?

Our school district has done a great deal of professional development and intensive training with our teaching staff in the areas of mathematics and science. We followed that up with a gap analysis of the curriculum and realigning our curriculum to the CCS. Purchases of texts and materials better aligned with the CCS were also made. We updated our technology to meet the needs of 21st century learners. And we are currently preparing for the PARRC assessment that will be administered this spring.


What grades are experiencing or will experience the greatest change from the standards?

All grade levels K-12 are experiencing or will experience great change in the areas of mathematics and English language arts.


What have you done specifically in response to the new standards?

I have been involved in professional development activities, developing an implementation plan for our school and evaluating the implementation of that plan. I have supported our math and English teachers in attending conferences and workshops and provided them with time to collaborate and review/revise the curriculum. In talking with colleagues across the state, I feel that our school and district are well ahead of the majority of schools in implementing CCS.


Additional Comments:

There was not enough time or resources allocated for many schools to properly implement CCS. That is one reason several states have disengaged from the CCS initiative. I personally believe that the CCS should have been initially established at the lower grade levels and then phased in until all grade levels were included. Many educators have commented that it was "too much too soon."

BIll Yattoni - School Board Member

What is your stance on the Common Core standards and why?

I am for the program. As I understand it, standards in illinois have not been upgraded/reviewed/etc. in many years and it was time for a review anyway. I also believe it is important for students from all states have common standards as they will be going to college together in various states.


How are the standards being implemented in the school/district?

Dr. Bertrand is implementing the standards and I have full faith in his ability.


What grades are experiencing or will experience the greatest change from the standards?

Probably all that the new standards are implemented in.


What have you done specifically in response to the new standards?

Tried to learn about their implementation and changes.


Additional Comments:

I think it will have limited impact on our students compared to smaller, more rural districts that likely have no such standards. It should be good for society as those students should have a better education and become more productive members of society.

Tom Bertrand - District Superintendent

What is your stance on the Common Core standards and why?

I am supportive of more rigorous college and career readiness standards; however, I believe decisions about curriculum are best made at the local level rather than by the state or federal government.
There is some benefit to having common "minimum" standards across the states since our population is so much more transient than in the past.
I think some of the resistance against the CCS relates to the assessment component and the amount of time that students will be tested.


How are the standards being implemented in the school/district?

Local curriculum has been reviewed and aligned to the new standards. Teachers have developed some common assessments in language arts and math to measure students' progress toward attainment of the standards.


What grades are experiencing or will experience the greatest change from the standards?

Generally, the most change and challenges involves math. Students and teachers will see a big difference related to the rigor of new standards.


What have you done specifically in response to the new standards?

Local curriculum has been reviewed and aligned to the new standards. Teachers have developed some common assessments in language arts and math to measure students' progress toward attainment of the standards.
Teachers have attended professional development to become more familiar with the new standards.

Mike Ward - Director of Educational Services

What is your stance on the Common Core standards and why?

The Common Core State Standards are certainly game changers. They represent a set of learning targets for students that are more rigorous than the standards that we previously used.
I like the fact that these standards emphasize non-fiction reading and place a great deal of importance on citing textual evidence when writing about or discussing a reading passage. I also like that the authors of the English Language Arts standards incorporated standards for reading and writing in Social Studies, Science, and Technical classes.
The math standards emphasize more thinking and in some ways allow for more creativity in the solving of problems. I think that the math standards are trying to create students who can think more deeply about math and to have a more complex understanding of the "reasons" why math is what it is.
From a teaching and learning standpoint, there are some valid arguments about the CCSS. Critics will say that these standards may take way from the joy of reading for students. They challenge many of the traditional ways that we have taught reading. As with any set of standards, they seem to make a call that all students should be learning and mastering the same information at the same time. Anyone who knows anything about kids knows that this isn't possible. Students develop and learn at very different rates.
The CCSS are not without shortcomings. There are still too many big concepts for any classroom to really come to grips with in the course of a school year. Teachers still have to commit a lot of time "deconstructing" the standards--meaning that they have to look at the standards and break them down further in to parts. This means that while there may be 3 or 4 standards that a unit is targeting, there are many more learning targets that makes those standards up. It can become a pretty daunting task at times.
As I said earlier, the CCSS are a set of learning targets that have been established for students. I think its hard to argue that the standards themselves are bad for kids. In fact, a student who meets these targets would be extremely prepared for college or to enter a career.
The problems with the CCSS are more about who wrote them, what processes were used to make final decisions, and that they take some local control away from schools. In other words, much of the negative press is related to politics, not teaching and learning.


How are the standards being implemented in the school/district?

Teachers have been working on these standards for a number of years. Math and ELA teachers have probably done the greatest amount of professional development in this area. They have worked to "deconstruct" these standards.
All of the teachers in the district have been revising their curriculum maps to reflect the increased demands for reading and writing.
We have a new reading series in grades K-5 which was written and developed after the CCSS were released. This is important because initially textbook publishers made minor adjustments to the material and slapped a sticker on the book that said "Aligned to the Common Core". This reading series was developed from scratch and really aligns to the increased demands that the CCSS requires. It might be helpful to talk one of these teachers so you could learn how the experience has changed.


What grades are experiencing or will experience the greatest change from the standards?

The reading program in grades K-5 have experience an great amount of change with the new reading program.
I think there is a lot of debate over which grades will experience the greatest change. I think that at different times, it will seem that different grades or courses are changing the most.
Right now, its probably the K-5 reading program that is feeling the greatest impact. Yet, math teachers in every grade have made huge changes in what concepts are taught, the sequence in which they are taught, and the level of complexity that its being encountered.
I would anticipate that social studies and science courses in JH and HS will change greatly over time as those teachers become more comfortable with the increased demands for reading, text analysis, and text-dependent questions.


What have you done specifically in response to the new standards?

Personally, I've become more aware of the need to really prioritize the specific standards that a course should cover. With so many standards, it becomes necessary to decide which of them has the most "power"-meaning which ones will impact future learning, which ones will assist students in other classes, and which ones are necessary for the next grade level or course.
I've also become more mindful of the importance of verbs. By this, I want to know if a teacher is asking teachers to identify something, recall a fact, apply a concept, or evaluate some piece of evidence. There is a real need to for teachers to be able to push students to higher and more complex levels of thinking.


Additional Comments:

I think its very important to make the distinction between the adoption of the CCSS and the development of the assessments that will be used to measure students achievement related to these standards.
As I have said before, the CCSS are simply learning targets. Cases for and against the specific targets can be made. Arguments are both sides have validity. I'm not sure that if you assembled a group of educators in Sangamon County you could come up with standards that everyone agrees with. This was done with the idea of having common standards across the states. From day one, critics were lined up to find faults within the process and the standards. That really isn't surprising.
The real criticism comes in the way that schools are required to show student achievement. The testing piece of this is an area that deserves much criticism. The PARCC assessment that Illinois uses will be a huge departure from the old ISAT and PSAE assessments. The PARCC assessment process will be lengthy, will involve technology (both a good and bad thing in itself), and could be very complicated to administer. Any type of standardized test draws criticism because it fails to recognize creativity, communication skills, and truly higher-order thinking. More importantly, Illinois had a system of student assessments that people had confidence in-both in terms of how to administer and that the test had value (the ACT).
I think much of the criticism of CCSS really comes in the form of how we are going to measure student achievement and "rate" schools.