In just a couple years, Indiana students will no longer take the Indiana Statewide Testing for Education Progress Plus (ISTEP+) and students may see some differences in what they learn each year in the classroom and how they learn it.
These changes are a part of Indiana and 44 other state’s transition to teaching to the Common Core State Standards. Indiana schools are in the second year of transitioning to the Common Core, which are replacing the state’s current benchmarks, the Indiana Academic Standards.
John Hill, director of curriculum and instruction for Elkhart Community Schools, said that maybe the most significant change to the standards is that writing will be used in all “technical subjects.” That means that writing becomes more of a tool rather than its own subject, he explained. Students will write and be graded on their writing mechanics in social studies, science, physical education, art and other subjects.
West Side Middle School started working on that piece when the standards were first released three years ago.
The school’s language arts and social studies teachers have integrated their classes so that when students are learning about a skill in language arts, they’re using it in social studies. For example, when students learn about persuasive writing in language arts, they write a persuasive essay on whatever they’re currently studying in their social studies class. Those essays are then graded for material by the social studies teacher and on the students’ writing mechanics by the language arts teacher.
“Instead of the kids writing for them and writing for us, they can go deeper with one piece,” explained DeAnna Williams, a West Side language arts teacher.
Natalie Schultz, a social studies teacher there, said “it’s not a burden, because it’s made our lives easier and for the kids — and that’s what we’re here for, the kids.”
Educators across the state have had to take time to learn about all the standards and how they’re to be implemented.
“It’s daunting to educators,” Hill said. With time, though, he said the standards are a step in the right direction for shifting to a new paradigm in education.
“The Common Core State Standards change the intent and design of secondary schools in the United States,” Hill said. “Secondary schools were developed on the assembly line model of Henry Ford,” he explained, but are now moving to a more integrated approach.
“The idea is, well, it’s a global marketplace,” he said.
Hill assured, though, that the transformation to a more integrated school day is “going to be amazingly gradual,” taking generations to be significantly different.
Among other changes, the Common Core State Standards views technology as more of a tool than its own content area, Hill said. The English and language arts standards also call for a stronger emphasis on developing a strong argument in writing and on reading informational texts, aside from classic and contemporary literature. As in language arts, math standards are also changing, with all standards “robust and relevant to the real world,” according to the Indiana Department of Education.
The standards are also more connected from grade to grade, Hill said. Unlike the Indiana Academic Standards, the Core standards have generally the same standards through each grade, but with slightly altered language in each, requiring a bit more of each grade in their understanding and use of each skill.
Last year was the first that Indiana kindergarten students were taught only according to the CCSS, while this year is the first that both kindergarten and first grade are fully meeting the standards. Next year, second grade will join them. Other grades are learning partially according to the current Indiana Academic Standards and partially according to the Common Core. Those grades, though, are still being tested by ISTEP+, which only covers Indiana Academic Standards. Starting in the 2014-2015 school year, students begin annually taking a new standardized test which will test over the Common Core standards, replacing ISTEP+. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is creating the new test that will be used in Indiana.
Hill pointed out, though, that while most U.S. states will for the first time have the same academic standards, some states will use a test prepared by PARCC, like Indiana, while some states will use a test developed by Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, including Michigan. The groups are creating different, though likely somewhat similar tests, Hill said. That means that while students will try to meet the same standards, they’ll be tested over those standards in different ways.
People can learn about the new Common Core State Standards, their implementation and development by visiting www.corestandards.org or www.doe.in.gov.