Three recent District 157-C informational “Coffees” were well attended. The programs highlighted the Common Core State Standards Initiative that is being implemented. Ms. Janet Goggins, District 157-C Director of Curriculum & Instruction, presented the programs, with participation by Dr. Thomas Hurlburt, District 157-C Superintendent, Dr. Sharon Michalak, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum at Lincoln-Way District 210 and Mrs. Aimee Feehery, Associate Principal of Lincoln-Way East High School. Alignment to the Common Core Standards is a K-12 initiative. Lincoln-Way High School District 210 is also aligning its curriculum for a seamless transition for students from District 157-C to Lincoln-Way East High School.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and experts to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare students for college and the work force. Forty-seven states have adopted the standards, with the State of Illinois adopting them in 2010. So far, only English Language Arts and Mathematics apply the new standards. Common Core standards are currently being written by the state for Science and Social Studies to be phased in later.
The standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate from high school and be able to succeed in academic college courses and in work force training programs. Dr. Michalak stated, “Frankfort 157-C and Lincoln-Way 210 have been conducting vertical teaming since 1997. Teachers from grades six through twelve meet twice a year to ensure that students from the grade school level have an easier transition to high school.” Mrs. Feehery stated, “We are not a unit (K-12) district but we are trying to behave like one.”
Until now, Illinois school districts have been using standards written by the state in 1997. The fifteen-year-old standards were lower rigor when compared with the new Common Core standards that were adopted by the state two years ago. Ms. Goggins stated, “Curriculum is comprised of the skills we want students to know and be able to do. We have specific curriculum expectations for each grade and want the students to have certain skill sets in place before they move on to the next grade.” The District 157-C curriculum expectations can be found on the website www.fsd157c.org and the high school curriculum expectations are at http://www.lw210.org/east.
Upon learning that the new standards were coming in 2010, District 157-C decided to be proactive and put a three-year plan in place to transition to the new state standards. A curriculum steering committee was formed, comprised of administrators and teachers from every grade level and Special Education. Over the next two years, extensive teacher training was completed. Each of District 157-C’s three schools has been getting ready for the implementation in a variety of ways. The district has aligned its curriculum, created curriculum maps, created learning targets, purchased and aligned resources, developed units and created both formative and summative assessments. For an entire year, teachers learned the new curriculum as well as expectations while getting trained to move the children forward. This year, the new curricular expectations are being brought into the classrooms.
Ms. Goggins said that the major differences of the old Illinois State Standards compared with the Common Core Standards are the shifts in instruction. She explained that the rigor of the standards has increased dramatically; not in the volume of what must be learned, but rather that the new standards use higher-level thinking and delve deeper into each subject. Other differences include the fact that the standards are written to be grade-level specific instead of ranges, students will be expected to meet each standard by the end of the school year, skills previously taught may be changed to a different grade level, teachers will be expected to deliver instruction in new ways, every skill in the new standards is spiraled and built upon starting from kindergarten through grade twelve, and the standards are based upon college and career readiness K-12.
Another major difference in the transition from the old to new standards is assessment. Currently the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) is used to measure student achievement. Beginning in 2014-15 a new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) test will be used. The new assessment is still in the process of being developed. Where the ISAT test generally had multiple choice test questions with one correct answer, the PARCC test will consist of different parts of each question, with points given for the various parts, and more than one correct answer,. The scoring of the new test may also be different from the ISAT, with the baseline cut score on the PARCC different from the level a child was at on the ISAT. Teachers are already conducting pre-assessments in the classroom to prepare for the changes in assessment, along with differentiation of instruction being provided for gaps in comprehension based upon each child’s needs. Teachers assess everyday and support systems are available to all students.
District 157-C consistently places well above the state averages on ISAT tests and its schools have earned numerous awards for high achievement. Dr. Hurlburt assured parents that he feels confident that our students and teachers will do well with the new higher rigor. He stated, “All states are in the same boat regarding implementation of the new standards. We have been proactive in figuring out what is best for 157-C because that is our measuring point. For us the bottom line is still educating kids. We are taking our curriculum and aligning it to the standards as the state asked us to do but we are still relying on the value of our teaching. We haven’t stopped the fundamental things going on in our classrooms. When we release our eighth graders to Lincoln-Way they are good, solid, strong, intelligent kids.”
Ms. Goggins stated, “With implementation of the new Common Core standards, three years ago our motto was to go slow then so we could go fast later. It has been a slow process but we have been building year after year and are now prepared for implementation. If anyone is ready for the challenge of higher level thinking and the demands of new expectations, it’s the kids we have in our district. Our parents have sent us wonderfully prepared children that are ready to continue learning and growing with us. It is an exciting time in education!”
More information is available about the Common Core State Standards Initiative on the District 157-C website, www.fsd157c.org in the District Office tab under “Curriculum” or by calling 815-469-5922.