County and city school officials say this year’s transition to the new Common Core/Essential Standards curriculum, while still in its infancy, is changing the way students are taught and evaluated.
And they note that while such a drastic change is daunting, both teachers and students appear to be rising to the challenge.
Officials with the state Department of Public Instruction mandated the change to the new curriculum starting this school year.
The new curriculum was put in place to focus education on better preparing students to live in the Information Age.
It is designed to be much more rigorous and force students to think critically, independently analyze information and use complex problem-solving strategies to reach a conclusion.
Discussing the transition after a couple of weeks of classroom instruction, Mount Airy City Schools Executive Director for Curriculum and Instruction Vickie Cameron said her teachers have risen to the challenge.
“It’s been a really smooth transition to Common Core/Essential Standards in the Mount Airy schools,” she said. “I’ve been really pleased with the way it’s gone.”
But Cameron noted that it’s a little early to say there won’t be any problems.
“We will re-evaluate our progress after the first several weeks of school to determine whether we need to adjust our pace or our delivery of the material,” she said.
Cameron said she’s “keeping a really close eye on the classrooms,” noting that school principals and staff are monitoring teachers to see whether any issues arise related to the new curriculum.
“We’re asking them to bring any issues they find to us and discuss them with us,” Cameron said, noting that thus far everything seems to be moving smoothly.
But she acknowledged that it’s really too early to tell how students are responding to the new, more challenging curriculum.
“We really don’t have a clear picture yet, but by the end of the first six or nine weeks we’ll know what, if any, kind of adjustments we’ll need to make,” Cameron said, noting that teachers are reviewing their lessons on a daily basis.
Cameron said the students seem to be rising to the challenge, based on what she knows to date.
“This is placing some pretty high standards on our students,” she said, noting that plans are in place to individualize the lessons for students who struggle with the new standards. “We look at each child, child by child, and we meet their needs through instruction that’s designed to meet that child’s individual needs.
“Raising the standards is great, but if that student can’t meet those standards, we must find an appropriate strategy for the instruction of that student.”
And Cameron said she’s all for raising the bar to prepare students to meet real-world challenges.
“To me, this curriculum isn’t going to be ‘sit and get,’” she said. “It’s much more engaging for our students.
“One thing I like about it is there has to be peer interaction and they must work together to solve problems,” she said. “This is much more task-oriented, where students are given a challenge and must work to solve that challenge by working collaboratively.”
County Schools: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance
Officials with the Surry County Schools credit proper planning, and collaboration among educators, with the system’s smooth transition to the more rigorous course of study.
“We think it’s moving at a very good, even pace,” said Dr. Terri Mosley, assistant superintendent for instructional services.
Mosley said that the system worked on the new curriculum for nearly a year in preparation for this year’s roll-out.
“Last spring, we took the documents from the state and worked on essential questions, pacing and vocabulary, not only in the Common Core areas of English and math, but in the essential standards as well for other curriculum areas like science and social studies.”
Over the summer, teachers worked on cleaning up those preliminary documents and placing them in a learning management system to be available to all teachers working on their individual lesson plans.
“The teachers have certainly embraced the learning management system and really embraced the collaboration, sharing of resources and development of lesson plans,” Mosley said.
Like the city school system, county school administrators are keeping a close eye on the progress in the classroom.
“We’ve asked our principals to check and ensure that every teacher is using the new standards, and plan to follow up during a session scheduled for the Sept. 21 early release day to address any issues that arise,” Mosley said.
Teachers in the county schools also seem to be rising to the challenge, she added.
“They have responded extremely well. The teachers in the Surry County School System are the best in the world in embracing change when they understand it’s in the best interest of the students,” Mosley said.
Over the next few weeks, county school administrators will be looking over the progress in the classroom and will provide any resources or support that is needed, according to the assistant superintendent.
And the students in the classroom seem to be embracing the change as well. Like Cameron, Mosley said she believes students enjoy being pushed academically, noting that often it’s a two-way street.
“In many cases (students) push us to achieve a higher level through the way they rise to meet the expectations we set for them,” she said. “That’s what we’re seeing in our students. They’re meeting our expectations.”
Both Mosley and Cameron said they realize that such a drastic shift in how students are taught can be tough for both teachers and students, but note that in this case it’s a change that was long overdue.
“Change is always a difficult process, but this change is grounded in what’s essential and best for the children,” Mosley said. “Grades aren’t the final evaluation any more.
“The new Common Core/Essential Standards require a multitude of ways to assess mastery and skills,” she added. “It’s about the student’s mastery of skills that allow them to be competent in a global world.
“That’s one of the greatest challenges we face with the implementation of these new, more rigorous, standards.”
Reach Keith Strange at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1929.