Schools incorporate new standards into instruction
An East Leyden High School freshman works on his laptop during freshman algebra Oct. 1. A change in standards in math and English has meant for changes in how students will learn in those subjects. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 5, 2012 10:50AM
ELMWOOD PARK — The state has set new education standards for school districts, and school administrators and teachers are working hard to meet them.
In June 2010, the Illinois State Board of Education adopted new learning standards for students called “common core.” The new standards aim to give all students a “common core” of knowledge they need to succeed in college or the workplace.
The standards were developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association for Best Practices. All but five states – Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia and Alaska – have signed on.
The common core standards deal with math and English, though educators are upgrading standards in other subject areas. This is the first update in learning standards in Illinois since 1997, according to the Illinois State Board of Education website.
A new test, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, is being developed. It’s tentatively scheduled for the 2014-2015 school year, Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.
The Illinois State Board of Education adopted the standards and is supplying professional development assistance to educators. But it’s up to individual school districts to adjust their curriculum and teaching.
Local school administrators are working to meet these new standards, which call for a student to not just know the right answer, but also explain why it is the right answer.
“It’s an inquiry-based method,” River Grove School District 85.5 Superintendent Glenn Grieshaber said. “It’s about teaching kids how to think and think about thinking, making conclusions, interpreting data and verbalizing what they are thinking and doing.”
The new standards want to ensure students get the meaning behind what they’ve learned, Grieshaber said. A math problem may have a certain outcome, but a student must understand why an answer is right or wrong and be able to explain why the problem is correct or incorrect.
Grieshaber said with state mandates in education, there is often one major problem: the money needed to reach the mandates. Where some school districts have the money to buy books, computer programs and other educational aides, his district does not.
“In a district like ours, where money has been an issue, for us to retool, it will be difficult,” he said. “The teacher’s will bear the brunt of making it happen.”
The district will use its financial resources to send some of its teachers to be trained. They will bring that knowledge back to the district to be shared with everyone else.
“Once we’re really into it, it won’t look strange to us,” he said. “We’ll get our arms around it and use it more to our students’ advantage.”
Elmwood Park School District 401 Superintendent Kevin Anderson said he wants to make sure students can adjust to the change in standards.
“It’s a shift on how we do instruction. It’s not such a material issue,” he said. “As we pick new textbooks, we look for those connections that connect to the common core and lead down that road.
“We want to make sure what they are teaching matches up with the state standards,” he said.
District 401 Curriculum and Instruction Assistant Superintendent Paula Hlavacek said the common core standards for math set the bar for how students should be taught other subjects.
“So much of it is looking at things in-depth, going deeper and not covering so many topics,” she said. “That’s incredibly different from what we’ve done before.”
District teachers have received training through grants from the Chicago Community Trust to teach students math as it relates to the common core standard.
In other subjects, such as language arts, what was taught in the past for a particular grade has changed. What students are reading has been redefined as well.
“They’re looking at much more writing and comprehension,” Hlavacek said. “They are looking at the rigor in what students are reading. They (the state) are saying we are reading a lot of literature and non-fiction and they are moving to a lot more informational texts.”
Anderson said reading more technical material is being required. The same reading requirements tie into subjects such as social studies. Students also have to write about what they’ve learned, proving they know it.
“Students have to be able to construct a good argument, defend it, put their research and reasoning behind it,” Anderson said.
Hlavacek believes these new standards are about empowering students to take on problems inside and outside the classroom.
“Learning how to problem solve, that’s key,” she said.~.