Connecticut students were thrilled last year when they learned that the dreaded CMT and CAPT tests were being eliminated. But as the new Smarter Balanced Assessment tests are about to begin for 3rd to 8th and 11th graders, both parents and children are now a bit apprehensive. There are just a lot of unknowns. Parents are asking what’s ahead with these new tests and the coming new curriculum. How will it impact their children? What kind of changes will they bring? Why are they happening now? Is it good or bad news for our local schools?
Answers to those questions and more relate to the newly adopted Common Core State Standards Initiative (simply known as the “Common Core”). Connecticut, along with 45 other states, has adopted this entirely new curriculum and with it a new testing process. Area school systems will not formerly begin the new teaching until the 2014-2015 school year, but a large scale field testing of the assessment tests will begin within days.
Why the Change?
The Common Core Curriculum is being sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers as a way to establish consistent educational standards across all of the United States. We’re told that it’s been designed to “be robust and relevant to the real world”, and to “provideknowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers“. The program’s ultimate goal is to place American students in a better competitive position in the global economy.
Likely to Be Some Growing Pains
Sylvan of Darien applauds the effort. But we also recognize that there can, and likely will, be some challenges along the way. Some issues to consider:
- The adoption of the Common Core may be happening too quickly - school systems’ lack of familiarity is bound to prevent a smooth transition, teachers likely will lack all the training to fully implement it, and some supporting materials just won’t be ready or available.
- Some skill sets may be missing – The transfer to the Common Core will likely work well for all new students who will be introduced to it as they begin 1st grade next fall. But the transfer may cause challenges for continuing students. For example, the new Common Core might require a 5th grader to advance into a new level of math content, though the foundational building blocks had not yet been provided under the older curriculum.
- Analytical thinking and making connections will be stressed - The Common Core will not only focus on knowing a correct answer but also on understanding why it’s the right answer. This leap to a more rational framework will be a difficult transition for some students.
- The disruption(s) caused by the new Common Core will only add to existing frustrations - Studies show each year in every classroom, there already are 10%-20% of students who fall behind for reasons beyond their own control (sickness, family incidents, home renovations, divorces, etc.). Adjustment to the Common Core will add to those frustrations.
- New standardized testing – Under the Common Core testing will be computer administered. There will be a forced order to questions that will prevent students from skipping around tough questions. Some questions will be open-ended. These testing differences and the need for keyboard skills will make tests a nightmare for some students.
- Learning methods differ across students - Some students perform best with auditory forms of learning, some with visual, and some with tactile forms of learning. Good teachers accept those realities and adjust their methods for students. These ‘customizations’ take time and experience. Until alternate approaches can be formulated for the new curriculum, some students unfortunately will be less supported.
How Sylvan Will Help Some Overcome These Challenges
- We are accustomed to being the outside resource that supplements each student’s classroom experience. We are accustomed to working with the student’s regular school teachers to address individual content and study skills issues as they arise.
- The Sylvan diagnostic tests are being changed to match the Common Core structure.
- Our teachers are very familiar with the building blocks needed to move forward at various levels. Once the demands are identified they’ll be ready to help students cope with whatever levels of content are needed.
- Our approach to learning has always been more about reading and understanding than memorizing. That will not be a transition for us. That’s the way Sylvan of Darien has been teaching all along.
If you would like to discuss the Core Curriculum or hear more of our views on how you can address the challenges it will present to some children, give Gwynne Campbell a call.