Speaker: Common Core gives teachers freedom
Common Core gives teachers more freedom than before in the classroom, something that Yuma officials say they are embracing.
As part of a presentation featuring the Yuma Union High School District, Associate Superintendent James Sheldahl debunked a few myths that exist on the Common Core State Standards.
Sheldahl explained to a group of community members in attendance during this month's Know Yuma: Inside and Out presentation that contrary to popular belief the new standards are not nationally mandated, they were developed by governors and state school chiefs. He added that Arizona voluntarily signed on to become a Common Core State Standards state.
Other schools of thought are that the current state tests, such as AIMS (Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards), aren't broken and a new end of year test like the PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) is not needed. The PARCC exam is currently being considered by Arizona's State Board of Education and the Department of Education as a possible assessment to replace the AIMS.
"Some say the AIMS test is fine; well, we have all kinds of data we can show you and all kind of scattergrams to show you that the AIMS exam is not fine... The AIMS test is not aligned to college readiness. There are multiple highly reputable research organizations that have done research on that and have come to the same conclusion."
Also, he said that Common Core does not dictate texts that teachers will use for instruction.
"In the past there were a handful of textbook companies that pretty much dictated what teachers around the country used as resources in the classroom," he said. "...What standards are, is a statement in each academic area - statements that clearly describe what kids need to know or be able to do. It doesn't say how the teachers need to teach it... Most of our teachers who teach in the Cambridge curriculum find it very liberating, they find that they can actually be much more creative and much more resourceful in their teaching and what they can provide to their kids prior to textbook bound curriculum."
Now, Sheldahl said, students have netbooks and teachers provide students with historical documents, for example, instead of reading from an 18-pound textbooks, which the district hasn't purchased since 2007.
Administrator Laura Campbell added that the courses YUHSD is offering to students through their recent Ready Now Yuma initiative are focused in the Cambridge curriculum, which are already aligned to the Common Core State Standards.
Campbell, who is the district's Ready Now Yuma director, explained that the Cambridge curriculum is no longer based on things like students memorizing content, but developing their skills necessary to be successful in their pursuits after graduation like analytical and critical thinking skills.
In history, for example, she said that it won't focus on 10,000 years ago to modern day, but it will allow them to go deeper into authentic historical documents.
She commented that along with the Common Core, the district's college and career readiness approach focuses on: think, know, go, act strategies.
"When students are actively involved in their own learning and they're guiding where they're going in a course or within their high school career, they're much more involved and those skills and techniques just become a part of who they are as opposed to something we're trying to force feed down their throat," she said.
Sarah Womer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6858. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSSarahWomer or on Twitter at @YSSarahWomer.