Ga. schools to begin new academic standards

Education Week

ATLANTA (AP) — School is in session at Elite Scholars Academy and there’s something new this year other than notebooks, pencils and clothes — the academic standards.

The year-round Clayton County charter school is one of the first in the state teaching the much-anticipated “Common Core” standards, a new academic road map designed to ensure Georgia students are ready for college and on pace with other states. Forty-five states have adopted the changes to math and language arts, which will have Georgia teachers introducing concepts such as multiplying large numbers and understanding the role of adverbs in earlier grades.

Elite Scholars Academy and other metro year-round schools offer a look at what schools across the state can expect when classes begin next month. In these schools, leaders are watching closely to ensure teachers are meeting the new standards, and looking for ways to support those who might be struggling.

In Ashley Baker’s seventh-grade language arts class, the day’s Common Core standard is written neatly on a dry-erase board so students can copy it into a spiral notebook. On this day, students are studying how the plot of a story unfolds and how it develops characters.

“Now students know they are competing, not just with Georgia,” said Shonda Shaw, principal. “You have the same knowledge if you move. It’s not just a Georgia thing.”

Georgia adopted the standards in July 2010. Since, the state has been working to train teachers through online and in-person sessions. Georgia earmarked about $900,000 in grant money to cover Common Core training. State officials say this is a transition year for teachers and districts.

“They won’t know what they don’t know until they get on the ground,” said Susan Jacobs, the English/language arts program specialist for the Georgia Department of Education.

In 2014-15, a new national test is scheduled to be introduced to measure how well students are learning the Common Core. But for now, students in Georgia will still be taking the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

The major challenge for teachers switching to Common Core is learning how to teach concepts previously taught in higher grades. Also, there’s the risk that students may have “gaps” in learning because of the transition. For example, adding and subtracting fractions will now be taught in fourth-grade rather than fifth. So students going into fifth-grade this year would miss that crucial lesson unless their teacher fills in the gap.

Teachers are being trained accordingly, say state officials.

“The question is what to do for kids that struggle,” said Kathleen S. Howe, DeKalb’s deputy superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “They struggled before Common Core, they are probably going to struggle after. That’s the piece that isn’t being talked about enough.”

Atlanta Public Schools has three year-round schools in session and teaching the Common Core. District officials say they are surveying teachers at the schools to get a feel for what to expect when school starts back districtwide Aug. 6.

Keisha Gibbons, principal of Boyd Elementary, a year-round school, said teachers started trying out some of the Common Core lessons in the final weeks of the 2011-12 school year. The new standards are being received with mixed emotions, she said.

“It’s change and no one likes change,” she said. “It’s up to me and my team to make sure we alleviate some of the stresses and let them know they can do this.”

Each APS school has been able to hire instructional coaches to give on-site training for teachers in need. APS teachers are getting weekly lesson plans from the district that serve as a guide for how to teach the new curriculum, Gibbons said. The goal is to have teachers back to drafting their own lesson plans by the end of the year as they become more comfortable with the new material.

“The challenge is making sure we’re not biting off too much at one time,” said Linda Anderson, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. “We’re making sure we’re working with teachers in way so they are not overwhelmed with the shift.”

Back at Elite Scholars Academy, Crystal Moore, a sixth-grade math teacher, said she prepped for the switch by watching state webinars and taking advantage of district training sessions. At first she was nervous, but she calmed her fears by creating a day-by-day plan of what she should be teaching and what resources, i.e. textbooks or computer programs, she would use for the lesson.

“At first I was frightened. I saw we were doing statistics in sixth grade — before we just did mean, median and mode, but now we will be discussing true statistics, which I didn’t learn until college,” she said. “Now, I’m excited about Common Core because I think it evens the playing field with us and other states.”

Advertisements

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: