At a meeting Wednesday for parents about the new Common Core education standards which are beginning to be applied in schools across the country, Darien educators spoke about how teaching at the schools is changing, how the school district is handling some details of the transition to new Common Core state tests.
The common education standards starting to be used in nearly every state in the country will be reflected in state standardized tests replacing the current Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and CAPT tests for students in higher grades.
The new tests are meant to help show how well schools and even individual teachers are doing in educating students as well as show how well each student is doing.
Some of the topics discussed during the meeting, which took place at Darien Library and included a panel of education officials from Darien Public Schools, were how reading materials are moving somewhat away from fiction and toward nonfiction texts, how the school district is trying to make sure there are enough computers available for students to take the tests, which will be delivered online, and how school officials still don't know a lot of the details about the new tests because the state seems to be still working out those details.
Ox Ridge School Principal Luke Forshaw described one of the biggest changes that will occur between CMT tests and the new Common Core tests as focusing more in-depth on some topics while dropping others, so U.S. education is less "a mile wide and an inch deep"—a common criticism of it—and students would become better thinkers.
Forshaw said general descriptions may be hard to understand, so here's how he described that in more concrete terms by using the example of third graders learning about praying mantises.
Under previous standards for measuring the education of children, they would be tested on whether they knew certain facts about a praying mantis, such as its features and where it lives.
Under Common Core state standards, he said, students would be asked something like:
"Give me an example of the relationshp between this other text we're reading about on pesticides, and [show] the impact that might have on the praying mantis population. [...] Do you think that a praying mantis could survive in this environment? Draw on the text [the child has just read] and give me an argument why you think that's the case or why you don't think that's the case."
The Common Core standards still demand knowledge as an essential base on which to test not just overall comprehension but also to test how well a student can use knowledge in various ways—to construct an argument that proves a point, for instance, or, as Forshaw put it at another point in the meeting:
"They have to go further [than knowing content]. They have to be able to understand relationships between certain aspects of the content area and how they might relate to other aspects of another content area. Children have to be able to apply that understanding, take an idea and apply it to a novel problem. They have to be able to think at greater depth about how to analyze a problem from different points of view."
At another point, Forshaw said the set of Common Core standards is "asking kids to do more with information, and its asking kids to develop these kinds of habits of mind and how they interact with texts over time. Thats a big shift with the Common Core."
In Connecticut, state standards and curriculum in mathematics have been aligned with standards drawn up by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, the same group that helped form the Core Standards in mathematics, so in this state the changes are smaller than in many others, Forshaw said.
For more information on Common Core State Standards and related matters, with links to other websites, see this Web page on the Darien Library website.
Editor's note: See also "A Revolution on How Math Is Taught in Darien Schools."