Recently, California adopted the new Com- mon Core State Standards (CCSS) presented by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in an effort to align the English and math core standards in school districts across the United States. CCSS outlines the English and math ca- pabilities students in each district will develop in order to prepare students for college and em- ployment. Adjusting to CCSS will be an ongo- ing process for the next few years at Gunn, ac- cording to Assistant Principal of Guidance Tom Jacoubowsky. Core implementation will begin this school year but full testing implementation will be held off until the 2014-2015 school year. “[We’ll] be taking a look at the common core standards, at what the teachers are required to be teaching and then aligning their curriculum to that,” Jacoubowsky said. “It’s good to have this look at education in such a way that en- sures the quality of education is benchmarked and measured throughout.”
According to the Common Core website, focus will shift toward analyzing non-fiction, as well as teaching writing, speaking and listen- ing. Building on academic vocabulary, critical reading and literacy will also be a responsibility shared by all teachers. In math, CCSS concen- trates on developing reasoning and problem- solving skills so that students can integrate a deeper understanding of the conceptual top- ics at each grade level. Standardized testing will also change under CCSS, with California transitioning from the former Standardized Re- porting and Testing, known as the STAR test, to the computerized Smarter Balanced Assess- ments (SBA). The SBA will assess a student’s capabilities by the number of questions he or she answers correctly and will adjust by provid- ing more challenging questions as the student continues.
Jacoubowsky, however, does not believe CCSS will change much of Gunn’s curriculum. “Honestly, I think Gunn is so far ahead,” he said. “Much of [CCSS] we are already doing in many areas.” But Jacoubowsky also notes the benefits that will be obtained statewide as a result of implementation. “We have an excellent education system here in Palo Alto [but] some school districts don’t,” he said. “Hopefully Common Core will align everything, not just within a state but within other states, too.”
On the other hand, Jacoubowsky does foresee a possible drop in standardized test scores in the first few years of implementing the SBA. “It’s going to be a different testing experience for the students,” he said. “So if there used to be 70 percent that scored advanced [on the STAR test], it may dip down to 50 percent on the [SBA].” But aside from the new standardized tests, Jacoubowsky does not perceive a major difference with in Gunn classrooms. “As far as the actual instruction, the preparation that kids are going to get, and as far as things such as SAT scores, where kids are going to college, none of that is going to change,” he said.
According to math Instructional Supervisor (I.S.) Kathy Hawes, departments have been collaborating to improve the quality of education across the boards. “Right now, I’m working with the other I.S.’s to lay out a plan on how to transition into the new program so that students aren’t overwhelmed, so that we begin incorporating the key components of the standards,” Hawes said. “We’re taking our broad understanding [of the standards] and trickling it down to units, and from the units, trickling down to lessons.” In math, eight new mathematical practice standards have been added to the curriculum. “[They] will hopefully improve our instruction to incorporate more in-depth investigation, real-world applications and making math seem more relevant to students,” she said.
Trigonometry and algebra will not undergo drastic changes, and while the approach to geometry will alter, the biggest change will arrive with the return of statistics and probability as a mathematics course. “When you think about most people, statistics and probability are probably the most useful mathematics that they learn,” Hawes said. “So it’s a real positive that [they’re] being emphasized in the standards.” However, the absence of revised CCSS textbooks will be problematic. “Until the textbooks are written, it’s going to be challenging to really implement [the new standards],” Hawes said.
The new standards will also encourage teacher cooperation in developing student skills as a team. “It’s not just English that’s [teaching] the [English Language Arts] standards,” Hawes said. “Science will be supporting technical writing, [and] social studies will be supporting research-based writing.” Mathematics such as measurement and precision will also play a larger role in science, Hawes said.To junior Grant Fong, the new standards are a shift from teaching the subject to teaching necessary life skills. “That’s an important stance to take,” he said. “I personally think in most cases the studying abilities and life skills are more important than the actual subject.” However, Fong feels that standardized testing will eventually become obsolete. “There’s no real way they can test these skills in a standardized way,” he said. “In this case, [standardized tests] are basically useless.” Even though Fong acknowledges the academic rigor at Gunn, he believes students will ultimately benefit from CCSS. “The new core curriculum focuses on teaching skills such as how to work with a partner, how to research and how to formulate your own opinions,” he said. “In the long term, those skills and those abilities matter much, much more than the actual subject.”
While Gunn and California undergo CCSS changes, Fong hopes a balance can be reached in melding the current curriculum with new core standards. “I think we just need to focus on looking at both and not necessarily giving them equal weight but seeing the values in both,” he said. “But I think most Gunn students will actually like these changes because it makes the classroom more engaging and interesting.” Jacoubowsky, too, understands the significance of what CCSS will bring to the table but remains confident in students’ abilities to adapt. “We’ve been excellent before, we’re excellent now,” he said. “We’ll continue to be excellent.”