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In an attempt to allow students and staff time to get used to new standards, Charles County Public Schools will begin phasing in a new common core curriculum two years ahead of schedule.
Maryland adopted the common core state standards in June 2010, according to the Maryland State Department of Education website.
The new standards are aimed to link curricula in English and math from state to state and provide a clear understanding of what students are to learn.
The state curricula based on the standards are not scheduled to be fully implemented until the 2013-14 school year, according to the MSDE website.
Judy Estep, assistant superintendent of instruction, said Monday during a Charles County Board of Education work session that the school system is moving to transition into the new standards beginning next year, as the new curricula involve many shifts in concepts and skills that students will be learning.
“If we wait until accountability is on us then start the transition, we will be behind,” Estep said.
Staff began writing its curricula this year and has done staff trainings for the new common core since the standards were adopted.
More trainings are scheduled on the state and local levels during the summer.
An example of a shift in the current curriculum and the common core in reading, English and language arts is a focus on reading assignments that inform students on a subject rather than just testing reading knowledge, a shared responsibility of literacy instruction across content areas and an emphasis on students writing to demonstrate their understanding of passages they read.
Currently, students read mostly fictional passages in reading instruction and write more narrative responses.
An example of a shift in rigor, system staff explained, is that currently fourth-grade students learn how to identify and use parts of speech such as prepositions. With the new standards, these skills soon will be taught in kindergarten.
Examples of changes in math skills and rigor also will require transition time.
School system staff indicated that an example of a difference in the current curriculum from the new standards is that currently there is an emphasis on students memorizing steps and procedures to draw a conclusion, which leaves students at times unable to apply the steps to new problems.
Staff explained that under the new standards, students will develop an understanding of how math works and skills will be taught in a way to create connections to additional concepts and mathematical ideas, helping to create independent thinkers.
An example of a rigor shift, staff said, is that currently in eighth-grade math, students are taught to find the circumference of a circle. Under the new standards, students will know the formulas for the volumes of cones, cylinders and spheres which incorporate the formula for finding circumference and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems.
Additionally, students who are currently in Algebra II are creating equations and inequalities in one variable. Students learning these skills under the common core standards will learn them in Algebra I.
School board Chairwoman Roberta S. Wise said she has no opposition to the transition but is fearful, especially with math, as the aggressive change in rigor could create problems with students disliking math and not being able to complete the curriculum expected of them.
Wise said she loved seeing students exposed to rigorous opportunities, but the way the curriculum is written, she didn’t think it would meet the needs of all students.
Estep said the changes in math create more of a hands-on, real-world approach, which many students seem to relate to.
“Many who struggle [with math] will really benefit,” Estep said.
Wise also brought up the concern of cost.
While the new standards would require a shift in programs and materials, Estep said there could be a potential for new textbook costs, but many of the new programs may only require extension packets to go along with resources the system already has.
Special education students will be involved in the transition also and will be included with the common core curriculum.
Arden Sotomayor, the public schools’ director of special education, said students would continue to be instructed in an environment where they are challenged and expected to excel.
Board member Patricia Bowie expressed concern with special education teachers and students being able to keep up with a more rigorous curriculum.
Sotomayor said special education students still will have interventions, resources and support as needed.
“Special education services will remain the same,” Sotomayor said.