Local schools getting head start on Common Core curriculum

March 28, 2013 10:23:35 AM

Sarah Fowler - [email protected]


As school districts around the country prepare to make the switch to Common Core, a new type of math- and language arts-based curriculum, the Columbus Municipal School District is taking steps to ensure that students, parents and teachers are prepared for the change. 


Created by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State, Common Core curriculum was brought to life in 2009. CMSD Professional Development Coordinator Edna McGill said the district is beginning to introduce the new curriculum to students. While Common Core is not yet mandated by the U.S. Department of Education, McGill said 46 states and the District of Columbia have already adopted the curriculum. 


"Almost every state in the nation is going to be using this set of standards. Each state will be on the same page," McGill said. 


Unlike the current curriculum where Mississippi students may be taking a completely different test than students in another state, Common Core is designed to bring uniformity to the curriculum in an effort to level the playing field. Each student, regardless of what state he or she lives in, will be learning the same material and taking the same tests at the same time. 


"Just like they all take the ACT, they will all be taking the same tests," McGill said. 


By the year 2014-2015 school year, McGill said Common Core will be fully implemented in the district. 


To prepare for that change, teachers have been attending conferences to learn how to bring the standards into classrooms. Training has been provided by the Mississippi Department of Education. 


In the 2011-2012 school year, CMSD teachers began teaching Common Core to Kinderg√§rtners, first- and second-graders. This school year, children in grades 3-8 have been introduced to the new curriculum. In 2013-2014, high school students will begin learning Common Core standards. By 2014-2015, the district will be teaching Common Core exclusively at all grade levels. 


Since students are not yet being tested by Common Core standards, teachers have to teach both Common Core and the curriculum currently mandated by the Mississippi Department of Education, essentially teaching by two different sets of standards. 


"We're integrating Common Core with Mississippi framework," McGill said. "We couldn't just stop teaching. It's a process of weaving common core with Mississippi framework." 


McGill said that teaching dual curricula can be demanding, teachers understand the importance of their extra efforts. 


"We're all very excited because we think it is what's best for our students," McGill said. 




County schools  


on board 


CMSD is not only the local school district that is preparing for Common Core. Lowndes County Assistant Superintendent Dr. Robin Ballard said like CMSD, its teachers have been training for the change for the last couple of years. 


"We have been preparing for Common Core State Standards through our Profession Learning Communities," Ballard said. " In 2011-2012, we began sending teachers to training provided by Mississippi Department of Education. These teachers returned to the district armed with materials to train their peers. This was completed throughout the grade bands. That school year, in our monthly meetings, the teachers were delving into (the material), de-constructing them into more common language, and aligning them with our resources. This allowed them to gain a better understanding of those standards, see the gaps in their current instruction, and make informed recommendations for texts and other resources in a collaborative manner with their peers," she said. 


Ballard said that with that training, teachers have gained a better understanding of the new curriculum. 


"This school year, we have broadened our scope as we have gained further understanding of (Common Core) by seeking information from other states and as more and more information is released from PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers). Our monthly PLC meetings have turned into bi-monthly meetings, with one of those being a district PLC so that teachers can collaborate with their peers in our sister schools," she said. 


Ballard explained that PARCC is one of the two testing consortia of which states can align." 




Starkville to start program 


Jody Woodrum, Assistant Superintendent of the Starkville School District said the district will be implementing some Common Core fundamentals in the last nine weeks of the current school year. 


"We believe it is just as important for teachers and students to become familiar with the practices and processes invoked by Common Core, practices such as learning to justify answers orally and in writing or finding connections between course content and real world experiences, as it is to know the new standards inside and out," Woodrum said.  


"To that end, Starkville teacher teams from various subject areas have come together to plan and are now carrying out one interdisciplinary, performance-based instructional unit with a writing component in grades 3-8 during this last nine weeks. By 2013-14, we plan to engage students in one of these hands-on, literacy-themed units using Common Core practices each nine weeks. Common Core is about using and demonstrating what is being learned, and that is the approach we are applying, logically and systematically, as we move forward with this important process." 


Ballard said the success of Common Core will be measured by testing. 


"When we were first trained and began to explore the new vision for testing, Common Core levels of mastery were going to be measured four times per year," Ballard said. "That has been scaled back to two times a year but districts may opt for the first two assessments, which would be at the beginning of the year to be used as a baseline and at the middle of the year to be used as progress monitoring.  


"This opting in would be funded by the individual districts but would give the students and teachers practice in those kinds of assessment types and give instructional feedback on individual, class, school, and district needs for targeted student growth and needed professional development.  


The last two assessments would be held nearer to the end of the school year and one would be more multiple-choice type questions and one more performance, application-type of student response items. Next school year is the pilot test for the new assessment."

Sarah Fowler covered crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch.