Common Core implementation top board’s priorities

As the school year starts, Claremont Unified School District Board of Education President Steven Llanusa took a moment to reflect on the board’s most pressing priorities.

In March, the board voted to approve six strategic goals for 2014-2016. The first emphasizes success for every Claremont student: “Our students will achieve their academic and creative potential in challenging, relevant and engaging learning environments that prepare them for career, college and post-secondary opportunities.” 

The goal of fostering academic success holds true as the district moves into full implementation of the Common Core, with a fresh math and language arts curriculum and a new form of assessment reflecting the state standards.

In the face of those changes, the district must figure out how well it is meeting its primary aim. STAR assessment scores from previous years, intended to reveal how well students were learning, are no longer relevant.

“We’ve recently reconfirmed our district’s six goals, and have reworked the first goal to reflect the fact that there won’t be CST scores,” Mr. Llanusa said.

Another way academic mastery has been gauged is benchmark testing, administered early on in the school year to find out whether students are on track to demonstrate proficiency during annual assessments. If a student or population of students does poorly, teachers have time to engage in remediation. Unfortunately, the practice tests associated with STAR testing are obsolete.

“We have to develop our own benchmarks as a district because the Common Core assessment is an evolving thing,” he went on to say. “It’s as exciting as it is frightening because of the uncertainty—not knowing what the final assessment looks like.” 

A small number of CUSD students took a pilot test last year, and the Common Core website offers sample questions. Still, when it comes to predicting how students will fare during testing, Claremont staffers must put the cart before the horse.

“The idea of what something will look like and what it actually will look like are sometimes very different,” Mr. Llanusa said.  “Not knowing is a source of anxiety for teachers who want to make sure their students are as prepared as possible.”

Along with serving on the Claremont school board since 2005, Mr. Llanusa is an educator himself, having taught for many years at a science magnet school in San Bernardino County.

His main concern is not whether students will struggle with test questions, but that kids—who will be tested online on iPads, using an assessment developed by the Smarter Balanced consortium—will be flummoxed by the technological logistics.

“It’s not so much that curriculum is changing, but the way the content is tested is very different,” Mr. Llanusa explained. “When an assessment is given online, the monitor is often split into two windows or two panes. On the left side will be questions and directions on how to answer those questions, and the reading passage will be on the right side.”

 Scrolling may be required on the reading portion but not on the question screen, he said. Or perhaps kids, unable to see all of the possible answers while moving through a reading passage, will have to scroll on the question screen and then return to the spot where they were reading.

“The kids have been taught and have practiced scrolling both the test sections and the question sections on the iPad and have a familiarity with that,” Mr. Llanusa said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an easy thing. It doesn’t make the test impossible. It’s just maybe an aspect that teachers need to be aware of.”

He also discussed another component of the Common Core assessment, called a performance task.

“A performance task is a multi-step question in math and language arts, where students have to scroll through a long set of information, and at some grade levels the information is on two or three charts, which the student can’t see at the same time,” Mr. Llanusa said. “So the students have to scroll through the charts looking for information.”

It’s a new educational frontier. Nonetheless, Faculty Union President David Chamberlain stepped forward at the August 21 school board meeting to express Claremont teachers’ determination to lend their full support to the implementation of The Common Core.

In the fall of 2013, the executive board of the Claremont Faculty Association (CFA) worked to develop a guiding vision with regards to the Common Core. The end result was a belief statement that emphasizes positive aspects of the educational change-up as well as a reminder that teacher input should be at the heart of the transition.

“We believe that the Common Core State Standards have the potential to build real-world relevancy and challenging critical thinking skills,” the  CFA’s statement reads. “Further, we believe that CUSD teachers are the most valuable resource for the successful implementation of CCSS.”

The CFA’s Common Core Belief Statement also notes that teachers will need help with the Common Core and includes the following action statement: “Prioritize resources and professional support with the understanding that teachers must have the time, materials, and training they need to strengthen their instruction and better serve their students.”

The CFA’s pronouncement of its commitment rang true because teachers have already demonstrated their enthusiasm.

“This summer, there was a lot of training. It was amazing to see how many teachers gave up vacations days to come to training about the Common Core,” Mr. Llanusa said.

The district has already planned more instruction and research, including upcoming sessions on the Common Core math curriculum, benchmark development and curriculum design, as well as the cultivation of staff trainers to serve as leaders in various aspects of Common Core implementation.

CUSD families can also look forward to learning more about the Common Core and their students’ classroom experience at various parent nights.

Still, it all comes down to teacher involvement, Mr. Llanusa said.

 “The adoption of these new standards by the staff, teachers and administrators in Claremont has been so successful because Common Core is being implemented with uncommon care,” he quipped.

—Sarah Torribio


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