2013-11-08 / Front Page

Board receives Common Core update

Assistant superintendent outlines staff efforts to implement new standards
By Alex Acquisto
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK — The Regional School Unit 21 board of directors heard a brief report from Assistant Superintendent Sara Zito on Monday night about ways in which the schools in the district are making the English language arts and mathematics curriculum congruous with Maine’s new Common Core standards.

Zito updated the board on efforts being made by teachers at different grade levels to implement the standards and transition to Common Core. These standards fall under the Maine Learning Results, which include all disciplines.

The proficiency-based learning model is designed, for teachers, to look at the content students are given and then examine what students are able to achieve.

For example, “If a student is supposed to look at informational text in a certain way, a question we ask is, ‘How do they get there?’” said Zito.

“The proficiency-based learning is decided to take that (Common Core) as our content to drive our decisions about what students know and are able to do when looking at it from a standard’s base, as opposed to a standard’s reference,” Zito said.

“What we’re starting to do is if a student is supposed to be able to deal with, let’s say, informational text in this way, how do we get the student there,” asked Zito. “What changes in instruction do we have to implement and what changes in assessment do we have to implement?

“And that’s the process we’ve been going through. We started that process probably

16 months ago and we’re still learning that.”

The objective of the Common Core standards, said Zito, is to essentially replace one’s grade point average, or GPA, with standards that have been reached.

In other words, a student’s graduation, in the future might not depend on their numerical GPA, but rather, the level of achieved Common Core standards would decide one’s ability to graduate, known as the proficiency-based diploma.

There are eight content areas under Maine’s Learning Results.

“What we’re hoping and expecting to end up with at the end is a way of determining graduation by virtue of the standards being reached as opposed to the typical GPAthat students achieve now,” Zito said. “It’s not unusual for districts and schools going through this process to end up, for some time, at least with something parallel to become adjusted to that.”

In a printed statement released by Acting Department of Education Commissioner Jim Rier on Thursday, Oct. 17, Maine educators were informed that current eighthgrade students will become Maine’s first graduating class to demonstrate competence in all eight content areas.

The statewide transition to the proficiency-based diploma began in October. School Administration Units, or SAU’s, received state funds to aid in the transition.

According to the Maine Department of Education, “The law calls for the department to distribute to each SAU a grant in the amount of 1/10th of 1 percent of that SAU’s total cost of education, as calculated under the Essential Programs and Services (EPS) school funding formula.”

Teachers are being guided by professionals and peer mentors in the form of workshops on how to most effectively transition curriculum to Maine’s Common Core standards. This will continue on Thursday, Nov. 5 as teachers gather in Biddeford for a conference on the matter.

“As the discourse continues, I hope where we get is to a very simple, straightforward, concrete explanation of what the application of Common Core standards actually looks like,” said board member Robert Domine. “I understand nowadays students sign up for classes, there are a certain number of credit hours, they take tests and write papers and get grades and at the end of the whole thing (graduation) they have amassed enough credits to get a diploma and live happily ever after,” Domine said. “And that’s very tangible to me; it’s a system I understand.

“So, where I would need to get with a sort of intelligent discussion of common core is exactly what it looks like in its application, so I can lay side by side the description I just gave of how the current system works. That’s where the discourse needs to go.”

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