Common Core allows for creativity, invention, Rocklin planning team member says

New standards mean new classroom expectations
By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald correspondent
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Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part story detailing how the Rocklin Unified School District is implementing the state Common Core standards into its classrooms.

In anticipation of new state standards soon to be commonplace in the Rocklin Unified School District, Ruhkala Elementary fifth-grade teacher Adam Salinger will have to make room on his classroom shelves for some really good nonfiction.

“In reading, my students will be expected to use evidence directly from complex text to make evidence-based claims,” said Salinger, who is a California Common Core State Standards teacher leader for RUSD. “This directly changes my planning and instructional techniques as a teacher.”

California Common Core State Standards are new national benchmarks for English language arts and mathematics. The National Governors Association and chief state school officers developed and promoted the standards to ensure students, no matter where they live, aim for the standards necessary for college and global competition. The California State Board of Education unanimously adopted the CCCSS in August 2010 and so have 45 other states.

While certain guidelines about technology use, annual testing and implementation costs are still forthcoming from the California Department of Education, RUSD teachers are making instructional changes and rearranging academic content to align their curriculum with the new expectations of Common Core.

“Everything I do in my classroom will look different under Common Core,” Salinger said. “Some things will change drastically; others will be tweaked to align more directly with the new expectations. All teachers will have to change how and what they teach. But all teachers won’t change in the same way, since not all teachers teach the same way.”

Teachers have much work ahead. While California’s 1997 academic standards and the CCCSS share certain standards for math and English language arts, the new standards demand a deep emphasis on how students should respond, research and collaborate in many subjects. Kindergarteners will be expected to count to 100 by ones and 10s. In fifth grade, there will be an increase in small group reading, re-reading and small group discussion, and students will be expected to cite evidence to justify their statements. In seventh grade, math students will be expected to describe the two-dimensional figures that result from slicing a three-dimensional figure, as in plane sections of right rectangular prisms and right triangular prisms.

In every grade, the new standards will intertwine reading, writing and speaking on a regular basis.

“Our previous standards were almost a list of isolated skills that were tested by multiple choice state tests,” said Carolyn Nunn-Lum, RUSD director of elementary programs who serves on the Rocklin Unified Common Core Planning Team. “The CCCSS standards may be fewer in number, but the expectation of each standard clearly describes the deeper understanding expected in each area with each grade. For example, fractions, geometry and numeration are separate chapters in a book. With the new standards, students not only learn each of the skills, but understand how fractions, geometry and numeration are related mathematically.”

Standardized state testing will reflect the new pedagogical approach. Students will be required to show their mastery of the standards with much more writing and much less multiple-choice. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, a state-led consortium working to develop the new assessments, will conduct a pilot test of its assessments this spring. Two Ruhkala Elementary sixth-grade math classes will participate in the pilot test. The model will provide critical data and offer feedback on how the new test administration system is functioning.

“Some people may think that the standards limit what teachers can teach,” Nunn-Lum shared. “It is quite the opposite. The intent of the standards is to teach students not only how to understand language arts, reading, math, science, social science and other content areas, but also to learn the relationships among the content areas, and to use what they know to solve multi-layer problems. How the standards will be taught allows for creativity, invention and high-level thinking.”