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Understanding the Common Core Standards

Welcome to the 2013-2014 school year. In this article I will discuss the impact of the 2013 ELA and math Common Core assessments and our district’s continued efforts to excel in this new model of curriculum and instruction.  The release of the 2013 scores in August dramatically changed the landscape of education in New York State. Education Commissioner John King warned us that the 2013 assessment scores would be significantly lower in order to recalibrate student achievement levels to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the increased rigor of the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). The Common Core Standards are more than a curriculum or “content.” The standards require a significant change in the nature of instruction and learning. The standards emphasize inquiry-based learning, the construction of knowledge, and teaching students to “teach themselves.” They are conceptually rich and require students to be fully engaged in the learning process. Vestal embraces the importance of the standards as a tool for advancing our students as leaders and innovators in a global society. More significantly, our district is making sure that this change happens gradually and with adequate support so that our students can continue to experience success and passion for learning.

We recognize that the impact of this transition to the new standards has been felt by many of you. A majority of our students in grades 3-8 went from being proficient (levels 3 and 4) to not proficient (levels 1 and 2). Your child may be one who was affected by this change. At the district level, we can appreciate that our Vestal students still performed above the state average. But this does not provide a comfort to all of you who have watched your student go from levels of 3 and 4 to levels of 1 and 2. 

We must work to maintain our students' confidence in their abilities and gifts.  To this end, our teachers and administrators are fully committed to advancing our students within this new model of curriculum and instruction.  One question many parents have asked is, given the shift in levels of proficiency, what will academic intervention (AIS) look like?  This year, New York State has directed districts to maintain last year's level of academic support.  In Vestal, our administration has reviewed test data from last year and NYS' new guidelines to organize reading and math intervention in the elementary and middle school programs.  What all districts must now recognize is that effective first instruction in the core subjects will be more critical than ever in moving students toward the State's expectations of proficiency. To this end, our district is using this shift to explore alternate models of intervention that will set the stage for the coming years. At the elementary level, we are developing a model that integrates academic support within core instruction and refines screening tools to better identify
students’ areas of need. The middle school is piloting an eighth-grade model of experienced-based learning to promote student engagement in the math core proficiencies. These initiatives are exciting because they allow us to consider new approaches to instruction and intervention.

This school year, we will focus on adapting the state developed “modules” in mathematics that were released last spring and throughout the summer. We began this process last year when our K - 8 teachers participated in a series of workshops on “Mathematical Thinking” to understand the concepts that frame the new math standards. We will continue these workshops this year. At the high school level, this June will be the first administration of the Common Core Regents exam in Algebra 1.  To this end, our secondary math faculty will continue their work on aligning our secondary math program to the Common Core standards in algebra and geometry.

We are also evaluating the state developed “modules” for K - 12 English language arts. Our district has a strong literacy program. This year we will examine and selectively pilot the state ELA modules to establish a plan for their integration into our literacy program for the 2014-2015 school year. This year marks the first administration of the Common Core Regents in English 11. This assessment requires students to closely read and evaluate literary passages and craft text-based responses. The emphasis is on depth of understanding rather than breadth of reading. Our English faculty embraces this new model and their integration of the new standards has been inspiring.

Our district has organized many other initiatives to ensure our student’s success and the preparation of
our faculty:

   ·     In the 2012-2013 school year, our district implemented monthly early release days for professional development focused on the integration of the ELA and math Common Core Standards. Our faculty engaged in extended professional development on the CCLS core proficiency of close reading. This year these early release days will be essential to continuing this important work.

   ·    Last year, our district also introduced a literacy specialist for middle and high school. We now have a team of two literacy specialists serving grades pre-k through 12. They provide invaluable professional development on the Common Core and collaborate daily with our faculty.

   ·   This year, at the elementary level we have developed a new math support model. A team of three teachers will be shared among the five elementary buildings to assist teachers in the implementation of the Common Core math standards and modules, collaborate on core instruction, and provide targeted support to students.

   ·   Our district is committed to the innovative use of technology to transform the ways we think, learn, teach, and create. To accomplish this goal, this summer we established a team of “Technology Liaisons.” This team
meets regularly to develop their knowledge base and expertise in new technologies and digital resources that they can then bring back to their respective buildings to share and model.

There is much we have to do this year. Please click the "NYS Common Core Standards" link in the left menu of the "Parents" page for resources on the EngageNY website to help you better understand the changes we are facing and ways you can support your student. Our Principals are also an important resource for information and understanding. We welcome the rigor and depth of the Common Core Learning Standards. We believe over time, this change will further advance our students’ preparation as creative, contributing citizens of the world that will be theirs. As always, thank you for your support.