Strough/RFA: 12:00 p.m. (NOON) Dismissal; Staley Upper Elementary: 12:45 p.m. Dismissal; Elementary: 1:00 p.m. Dismissal; NO AFTERNOON PRE-K; NO AFTERSCHOOL ACTIVITIES
Parents, Teachers and Students Need to work Together to Meet New Standards
The New York State Education Department recently announced the scores of students on the 2013 grades 3-8 English and mathematics tests. Commissioner of Education Dr. John King called the results sobering.” Only about 30 percent of the students in New York State met the standards for English and mathematics.
These most recent tests were the first to measure proficiency against the new Common Core Learning Standards. The results will get better, but parents, teachers, and students will need time, exposure and support with the new curriculum to adjust to higher expectations. Students need more practice with more complex academic tasks to earn better scores on state tests. This will take a sustained effort from everyone so our students are prepared. Please keep in mind that last year’s third through eighth graders did not receive full exposure to the new standards in previous grades.
As I talk with parents and teachers about these new more challenging tests, I have realized that more information is needed to help everyone understand the changes. Here are some questions and answers to help you better understand what is happening with your child’s education and what we can ensure their success.
Why do we need new standards and new tests?
The economy has changed. Most jobs require post-secondary degrees. Increased competitiveness and the impact of technology require a more highly skilled workforce. Jobs require higher levels of reading, writing, and technical skills.
Additionally, studies indicate that many students who graduate from high school require remedial mathematics and English courses. This means they are unprepared and paying for college courses for which they receive no credit. Educators and industry leaders developed Common Core Learning Standards to ensure that high school graduates are “college and career ready.” The new state tests are designed to measure how well students are progressing toward that goal.
What will be different for my child?
The level of difficulty in reading, writing and mathematics will increase. Students will be required to read more carefully and critically and to justify their answers from evidence in the text. Students will need to write and construct arguments using information from multiple sources. Students will read more informational text beginning in primary grades.
Students will need to think and reason more, to engage in multiple steps to arrive at answers, and to persist and tolerate frustration when answers are not easily apparent. When we were in school, many of us read the questions at the end of the textbook chapter first then found the bold print and vocabulary to answer the questions. This will no longer be possible. In most cases, the answers are not explicit within the text. Students will also have to read several times in order to answer questions correctly. Close reading skills will be developed beginning in Pre-K. And in writing, the focus will be on the process, not the product.
In mathematics, students will need to solve problems that involve multiple operations such as adding, subtracting, dividing, and multiplying. Students will be expected to know the operations to apply to their solutions and problems will not be as easily defined. For example, elementary students might be asked to figure out how much carpet is required to re-carpet a room given a drawing and the dimensions of the walls. They will not be told to find the area of the floor.
What are the teachers doing to help students meet the new standards and score better on the new tests?
Teachers are participating in professional development and training which is focused on the Common Core Learning Standards and accompanying Instructional Shifts. The district has adopted new curriculum and purchased resources that will prepare students to meet the new standards.
In reading and writing, teachers are learning how to design text-dependent questions and assignments that require students to read more critically and to write from sources. Students at all levels and in all subject matters will develop skills to become “close readers.”
During a close read, teachers will require students to cite evidence from a specific reading passage or text to justify their answers. Students may need to read a passage several times as it will not longer be possible for students to choose a right answer simply by finding a bold vocabulary word in the text or through scanning the subheadings of the paragraphs.
Reading closely requires students to first read small chunks of text slowly to get the “gist” or figure out what it’s mostly about. Then they read the passage multiple times for multiple purposes such as grappling with vocabulary, annotating it, and finding evidence to support answers. Students also discuss their findings with partners and teachers then reread the passage thinking and writing about what they have just heard. The goal is to develop close reading habits that will transfer to all that they read – in our schools, in college, and in their careers.
Teachers and parents will need to help children learn resilience and avoid our natural inclination to help “too much”.
What can parents do to help students and teachers?
Try to understand as much as you can about the changes in the curriculum. Visit a website called engageny.org. There are many resources available on this website for parents.
Attend your child’s open house or parent information night. Common Core Curriculum will be an important emphasis at all schools. Principals and teachers will be speaking with you about the new standards.
Be patient with your child. Even students who have experienced academic success will struggle with the rigor demanded by the new standards. Your child needs practice and patience to achieve success. While we offer our children support, encouragement and practice, we also need to help our children recognize that struggling is part of learning. With our help, they will succeed.
Jeffrey P. Simons
Superintendent of Schools