Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
E-mail this article
Print this Article

With a new academic year just days away, Calvert County Public Schools teachers and officials are bracing themselves for a more rigorous curriculum that will roll out to more than 16,000 students in the county.

While the material, aligned to national education standards under Common Core State Standards, is expected to be more challenging for students, it will also test teachers. Educators say they must teach subjects differently from how they, and their students’ parents, learned them.

“The way I was taught growing up was a lot of memorization of facts we spit out on the test,” Mary Butz, a fifth-grade teacher at Beach Elementary School, said. “[Common Core is] a different way of thinking and going about usual instruction.”

“The role of teachers is changing,” said Siobhan Tedsten, a second-grade teacher at Beach Elementary. “We’re moving from direct lecture to hands-on lessons where kids are exploring and coming up with ideas on their own. I plan on taking the Common Core standards and making them work for my [students] as best as I can.”

Butz and Tedsten were two teachers chosen by Beach’s principal, Mike Shisler, to attend the third state Effective Educators Academy (EEA) at North Point High School in Charles County this summer. The academies drew teams of four to five teachers from every school in the state to translate what Common Core will be like and how it will work for the rest of each school’s staff, Shisler said. Teachers who attended the academies will return to their respective schools and disseminate the information to the rest of the staff. They will also receive training throughout the school year to share.

“At first, teachers did not totally comprehend the depth of what was being required of them,” Robin Welsh, deputy superintendent of CCPS, said of the academies from the previous two years. “They thought it was a lot of work.”

This year, Welsh said there was a “tremendous amount of excitement” from the teachers at the EEA and she was impressed with how anxious teachers were to get started. Welsh said she felt the teachers recognized the quality of the work they had ahead of them.

“It’s mainly a learning curve,” Butz said. “I’m excited and ready to try things out.”

Welsh said because the state is transitioning into Common Core, new math standards will be implemented in third, fourth, sixth and seventh grades. Fifth and eighth grades will continue with the Maryland State Curriculum. In reading and language arts, Common Core standards have already been implemented in the primary grades, beginning with pre-kindergarten, through high school. Two units for reading and language arts will be implemented this school year.

“Each school will still focus on attempting to close achievement gaps for the different student groups,” Welsh said, “through additional training, special focusing, meeting with certain schools and allowing for additional resources in the budget.”

Schools will also be focused on the state’s new teacher evaluations this year, based more on student performance than observation — a topic on which Butz and Tedsten are divided. While Butz has confidence she and her peers will do the best they can with the training they have received, Tedsten said change also brings anxiety and worry that some students may not fulfill the requirements.

“How can we evaluate our teachers on a new instructional system unless we provide the time for learning it and practicing it?” Shisler said of the principals’ and administrators’ crucial support for teachers.

Nancy V. Highsmith, interim superintendent for the school system, said Calvert teachers and administrators are working together collaboratively, and she feels teachers are becoming more and more comfortable with the new standards.

“I really want the schools to be showcased this year because the teachers work really hard and their interest is all about helping the students and seeing them progress,” Highsmith said.

One of the biggest differences students will notice this year is the change in reading material to more complex texts — what Welsh refers to as “disciplinary literacy.” According to Welsh, the new statewide Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers assessments “will have a good amount of testing in that area.”

Beginning in sixth grade, students will be studying more technical readings in all courses, said Leanne Meisinger, the CCPS supervisor of elementary reading and language arts. Meisinger said this approach will reveal to students that literacy skills are needed in all subjects and careers. The same critical thinking skills can be used to understand the author’s intention, purpose and credibility, which will better prepare children for the workforce and college, she said.

In addition, writing will be assessed and weighed more heavily. Previously, writing was graded more for mechanics, Tedsten said. Now, a deep understanding of content will be evaluated.

While Tedsten said this time of transition can be stressful, she believes her students can rise to the challenge.

“I think the students are extremely adaptable, especially for the primary grades because they do not know any different,” Tedsten said. “I’m more concerned with the parents.”

As curriculum standards change and develop, homework will, too. Tedsten said homework “will not be the worksheet factory that school used to be.” She said parents may be looking for those papers to come home every day, but the classroom will involve more group work that may not be seen after school.

Meisinger recommends parents attend open house meetings at their child’s school to become acquainted with the new structure. Welsh said parents should read over information posted on the CCPS website. Butz suggested parents involve their kids with everyday tasks that involve math, or other skills, around the house. This will connect what they’re learning in school to what they need to know outside of school, Butz said.

“Kids have to know how to think, how to work with other folks, how to find multiple answers to a problem and to work through problems that keep changing,” Shisler said of the ideas behind Common Core.

“The whole vision is to ensure we are graduating students who are career and college-graduate ready,” Welsh said.