Transitioning to the core

About 35 elementary school and junior high teachers and Terrebonne Parish School District personnel gathered at a town hall meeting with state superintendent John White to discuss concerns over transitioning to the common core curriculum.

“I am here to get feedback on the things we do,” White said. “Let us know what is good, what is not good, what is working and what is not working. We need a model for long-term planning and assessment.”

White was at Broadmoor Elementary School last Tuesday communicating his “Louisiana Believes: Achieving Common Core” presentation to parish teachers. In the fall of 2012, White lead the state’s school system in its first year of teaching under the Common Core State Standards and seven months later, teachers are still trying to acclimate to the new teaching standards after years of teaching under the Grade Level Expectations standards.

“I’ve heard from teachers around the state who are asking me about changes in curriculum, textbooks that are not fully aligned to the curriculum and planning and assessment for next school year,” White said. “Some say that there is too much to teach in one year and that the language of the transition is confusing. I need to know what your challenges with the curriculum and assessment are now.”

“I don’t know which standards to pick from the WestEd documents,” said one teacher, citing a study done to create an alignment between the Common Core State Standards and the Grade Level Expectations standards. “We have a fear of teaching things that were always taught but are not longer in the curriculum. If the students are tested on it later and they don’t know it, then the teacher looks bad. There are teachers that are teaching both the GLEs and common core standards. They are teaching everything because they are afraid that it will look bad on them in evaluations if they don’t. The state has not been clear on that.”

“That is helpful,” White said. “The state did not work in close conjunction with the curriculum designers, and I know that sounds crazy.”

By the end of the month, White hopes to have set up the Louisiana Plan for Student Achievement website, and the website will feature transition tools for the teachers, schools and school districts.

“There will be a teacher toolbox with webinars, standards, end of year assessments, student learning targets, lesson assessments and plans, observations and feedback,” he said. “We will be doing teacher led webinars soon with videos of a Level 2 teacher asking questions of a fourth-grade math class.”

White would also like to see one person at each school fully versed in the common core curriculum standards to help provide training, network and support to teachers.

“In April, I will be meeting with 2,000 teachers and educators from across the state,” White said. “These people will be trained to help facilitate and direct teacher communication and collaboration.”

“That’s all well and good, but I have Pre-K through seventh-grade students,” said Lisa Park Elementary Principal Joanne Hurgert. “I would need someone trained for the upper grades and someone trained for the lower grades. What the third graders are learning is not relevant to what the seventh-grade students are learning.”

“There is a content break and this needs to be based on the size of the school,” said an elementary school teacher. “We have some schools with eight teachers and others with 65. We can’t have one person to 65 teachers.”

In addition to transitional and training issues, the teachers also cited problems with finding textbooks and teaching materials that fit with the common core curriculum.

“I have to put together teaching materials myself,” said one teacher. “Publishers have not caught up to the new standards.”

“I don’t think this will be a problem in two years,” White said. “The textbook companies are quickly aligning their new textbooks to the curriculum.”

Several third- through eighth-grade teachers brought up apprehensions about state standardized tests as student’s scores on such tests will effect each teacher’s salary and incentive pay.

“We want fairness across the board for all teachers,” said one teacher. “It’s a challenge, and the evaluation tool does not apply to everyone. How do you compare a librarian, a computer lab teacher and a history teacher?”

“The science questions on the third-grade ILEAP test are multiple choice, but the fourth-grade test features multiple choice short answer and essay questions,” another teacher said. “It’s not compatible, and it’s not fair.”

White acknowledged the inconsistencies in both science and social studies tests and standards and mentioned that teachers may later be called on to help write future tests.

“All this information will be helpful to me to help focus on the next school year,” White said. “We need to make decisions grounded in reality.”

School board personnel felt that White’s visit helped to ease teacher’s concerns about transitioning to the core curriculum and future teacher evaluations.

“It was a very positive meeting,” said Terrebonne Parish School District superintendent Philip Martin. “Teachers were able to voice concerns that White had already recognized across the state. The common core curriculum has been making teachers very apprehensive. They want to make sure they are teaching the right things. The more that they understand, the less apprehensive they will be. They want to be sure that they are addressing the correct issues for the common core.

“This will help White formulate a plan to help address these issues across the state and make the target more visible,” Martin added.

Stacy Solet, Terrebonne school district’s elementary assessment and testing supervisor, was also pleased with the outcome of the meeting.

“A lot of the elementary school teachers teach more than one subject,” Solet said. “Students start taking state tests at those grade levels, and that is part of the teacher’s value added scores for evaluations. I think there is more of a vested interest from the teachers who teach at these grade levels.”

Like Martin, Solet also understood why parish teachers were concerned with the transition from the using the old grade-level expectations to the common core curriculum.

“It’s confusing to let go of what they have been using, and I hope that documents that make it easier to understand will be available before the teachers are out of school for the summer,” Solet said. “Our teachers are getting through it.”

State superintendent of education John White speaks to Terrebonne Parish teachers at last Tuesday’s meeting. Teachers across the state are working to adjust to the Common Core State Standards, and teachers met with White to voice their concerns with acclimating to the new standards.