As they are gradually seeing through their first two weeks of classes, Effingham County public school students are now under a new set of academic standards.
Georgia has teamed with 44 other states to implement a nationally-benchmarked set of performance standards in English/language arts (reading, writing and grammar) and mathematics.
The Common Core State Standards are designed to create more rigorous performance standards that are measured consistently across the country, thereby better preparing students to compete in today’s global marketplace.
“We hear about losing jobs to other countries frequently, and one of the reasons we are given for that is sometimes our workforce is not ready for what is expected of them,” said Judith Shuman, student/professional learning coordinator for the Effingham County School System. “By coming together, these states hope to raise those standards for every student and every state, regardless of the zip code that student might live in.”
Teachers, school administrators and content experts were involved in the nationwide collaborative to develop the standards, which are designed to give students the “real world” knowledge and skills they need to succeed after high school — either in college or a career.
“When you look at this, it’s really just good instruction,” Superintendent Randy Shearouse said. “It’s going to be a change — a greater change for some than others — but it’s certainly something that is needed.”
The new guidelines require students to write more frequently and incorporate writing exercises across the curriculum, not just in English/language arts classrooms. Students also will be reading more texts that are informational in nature, as opposed to literary in nature.
Elementary school students will have a 50/50 split of informational and literary reading. By middle school, 60 percent of students’ reading material will be informational, and in high school, it will be 75 percent informational.
“What do you think of students typically reading? (As a teacher) I know what I had my students reading — literary works,” Shuman said. “The shift now in what they read is to a balance between literary work and informational work, because we know that’s the kind of reading students must engage in to be successful in college and the workplace.”
Shuman used the example of assigning a writing exercise to accompany the poem “Casey at the Bat.” Students will now be given a “text-based response” assignment — whereas they previously might have had a “feeling response” assignment, such as describing how they felt about a time they encountered failure.
“That is no longer an appropriate writing assignment,” Shuman said. “In a text-based response, a student might be assigned, ‘Find examples in this poem of a humorous tale.’ And the student might have to cite a specific line in the poem and some device that the author used to create humor.”
In math classes, students will be expected not only to solve mathematical problems, but to explain their reasoning orally and in writing.
“(Students might ask), ‘Why am I learning this?’’ Shuman said. “We need to give them opportunities to see how this works in the real world.”
She gave the example of, “How could I use a formula to calculate whether or not I have changed the air conditioning setting in the hospital in the engineering department correctly, to make sure the operating room is going to stay at the level it is? There is a mathematical component in that.”
The content standards have not changed in science, social studies and technical subjects. However, students will be required to rely more on reading and writing skills to learn the subject matter and demonstrate their understanding of it.
Shearouse acknowledged that teachers might be “a little apprehensive” about the new standards.
“These are the standards you’re going to have to teach, but you have a wide range of methods that you can use to teach those standards,” he said.
“I think one of the hardest things (for teachers) is going to be letting go of some things they’ve always done or some things they’ve always taught — to know they have to give those up to do some other things that their students really need to do better,” Shuman said. “I might have wanted to teach 15 short stories, but I probably don’t have time to do that.”