Schools Must Overhaul Lessons, Testing And Teacher Evaluations

Common Core standards will face dramatic changes in next two years designed to stress critical thinking

Payson High School

Payson High School Photo by Andy Towle. |

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Rumors and whispers swirl about the newest educational reform: the common core standards.

But many ask, “Is this just another fad?”

Reformers claim the common core standards will revolutionize education. It will impose all new tests of student achievement, eliminate the controversial AIMS test, require teachers to overhaul their curriculum and stress critical thinking instead of mastering dates and facts.

So how will things change? What does the new curriculum mean for administrators, teachers and students?

Advocates sling about terms such as complex text, coherence, and conceptual understanding — so how does a parent not steeped in educational jargon figure out what they’re all talking about?

“(Common core) came about because there was an observation that many students graduating were not college ready,” said Payson High School Principal Van Zile at a recent school board meeting. Van Zile sat on the national committee that worked on overhauling English curriculums nationwide.

Van Zile said the new standards should increase students’ depth of knowledge and thinking skills, instead of stressing facts on a multiple-choice test. New tests and teacher evaluations based on student retention of information and concepts will determine if the common core standards have made a difference.

The federal government has attached billions of dollars in funding for schools to adoption of the new standards, with school funding, teacher evaluations and school ratings tied to student performance.

Van Zile said advocates hope the new standards will force students to apply what they have learned, not just regurgitate facts.

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Anna Van Zile

Take math, for example.

“American math has been described as a mile wide and an inch deep, it needs application in other areas,” said Van Zile. “It’s going to take all of us to make this change.”

For instance, under the new approach culinary arts teacher Devon Wells and the math department will integrate the math curriculum into Wells’ career technical education classes. Wells hopes to offer students a real-world approach to math.

Changes to the English curriculum include asking students to read more non-fiction and asking them to discern facts presented rather than just provide an emotional response.

Van Zile said, in a world inundated with information, communicating effectively depends on the ability to ferret out the facts and arguments rather than getting pulled into emotional reactions.

She suggested the different approach should help students do things like use facts to judge political rhetoric designed to manipulate them emotionally.

“Too many read and accept whatever is said,” she said. “You can’t get to the truth and understand the facts.”

Take the presidential debates for example.

The new approach focuses on giving students the tools to sort through the claims of the candidates and the raw appeals to emotion. Does requiring people to buy private insurance constitute “Socialized medicine?” Can raising the tax on the richest 1 percent of the population actually balance the budget? Would turning Medicare into a “voucher” to subsidize the cost of private insurance reduce benefits? Would cutting taxes revive the economy? Does the rapid rise in the national debt endanger the economy? Will providing insurance to 50 million people reduce medical inflation?

The candidates often use misleading statistics and raw appeals to emotion to sway the voters. The common core standards seek to help students identify such emotional manipulations and seek facts to judge the claims, said Van Zile.

In order to evaluate the impact of the new standards, the district will have to administer new student tests.

In Arizona, the repeated AIMS tests of basic skills will give way to a test created by Partnership for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), based on the new common core national standards. Like the current Stanford 10 test, the new exams will allow teachers and parents to tell how students compare to national norms.

The common core standards also recognize that without effective teachers, students cannot learn.

As a result, the new standards come with federal financial strings that require districts to update their teacher evaluation policies.

Payson Schools Superintendent Ron Hitchcock hopes the new evaluations will give teachers the tools they need to help their students succeed. He said it will foster a symbiotic relationship between teachers and students.

Van Zile said the common core standards will take effect in the fall of 2014. By that time, Payson Unified School District will have linked teacher and administrator evaluations to student achievement as the PARCC test replaces the AIMS test.

In the end, the common core standards seek to prepare for an increasingly competitive world.

“When (teachers were) asked what are the problems you see with your students, they said, kids don’t have perseverance. They have a hard time supporting their opinions,” said Van Zile. “The common core hopes to address that.”

Comments

Pat Randall 1 year, 5 months ago

Are they getting rid of the AIMS test because the teachers tried it and couldn't get a passing grade? (:

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