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Common Core standards: Going, going, gone

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The basis for the lessons teachers use to make children stronger readers and more critical thinkers is being thrown out, but what will replace it isn’t known yet.

Teachers have been revising lesson plans for the past three years to include a new set of standards called Common Core.

The goal of Common Core was to teach students how to think more analytically in all of their classes. Teachers spent more time showing students how to identify key details and authors’ main ideas in fiction and nonfiction essays and texts.

Students were taught to see how lessons in one subject applied to another, such as how strong reading skills also are used in social studies, and how math skills are used in science.

Teachers in lower elementary and upper high school grades use Common Core lessons now, and every grade was supposed to start using the standards next school year.

But last year state lawmakers halted the expansion of Common Core after parent groups across the state raised concerns about how well the new standards would prepare students for college and careers.

Forty-five other states were set to start using Common Core, and parents worried that state officials would lose control over how Indiana students are taught because they would have to meet policies agreed to by other states.

State senators have approved a proposal ending Common Core in the state, and the bill is being considered in the House. The Indiana State Board of Education is creating a new set of standards for schools to use next fall, but at the moment no one knows what the new expectations could include.

That means teachers don’t know whether they’ll have to change any of their lesson plans before next school year, and they might not know until the spring or summer. If Indiana’s new standards exclude Common Core principles, teachers will have a harder time finding textbooks and materials for their students and collaborating with their peers across the country, Greenwood assistant superintendent of learning Rick Ahlgrim said.

State officials also shouldn’t realistically expect to be able to create a new set of standards that are ready to use in six months, Ahlgrim said. Planning for and launching Common Core has taken several years, and so did creating previous standards.

“When you consider what the process is for researching and developing standards, it takes years,” Ahlgrim said. “It’s not something that ever happens between February and spring. Standards aren’t developed like that.”

Local school officials have said Common Core isn’t better or worse than previous standards, merely different.

Common Core had fewer lessons, so teachers could spend more time teaching students to analyze what they were learning. That kind of critical thinking is what students need so they can answer detailed essay questions and apply one subject to the lessons and assignments taught in other subjects, school officials said.

At Franklin schools, students read more nonfiction and informational text and learn how to gather information about the point the author was trying to make. During the past three years, the number of students passing both the math and language arts sections of ISTEP has risen, partly because of the Common Core-based lessons, Superintendent David Clendening said.

State officials could decide to combine elements of Indiana’s old standards with parts of Common Core, and Clendening said he hopes Indiana will continue to focus on developing students’ critical thinking and reading skills.

Moving away from Common Core also means schools might have a harder time finding affordable textbooks or online programs. If 45 states across the country use the same standards, textbook companies are likely to gear what they publish to those states, Ahlgrim said.

Teachers also could have fewer opportunities to collaborate with their peers across the country, Ahlgrim said. Teachers from local schools spend hours each week reviewing how well particular lessons and teaching styles work for students. Under Common Core, teachers were talking with their peers from other states, learning about how different classroom methods were working across the country.

“It’s a large and vibrant, just lively community of educators who are coming around common standards and collaborating to an extent that we’ve never seen before, with all 50 states having individual standards. And it’s definitely going to be unfortunate if what they decide here removes us from that community,” Ahlgrim said.

The state also will need to decide how to assess students next spring. This school year was supposed to be last time ISTEP was used to assess how well third- through eighth-graders understood what they’d been taught in math and science. Indiana had been preparing to switch to one of two Common Core-based assessments to test students, but if the state leaves Common Core, officials may have to prepare students for a whole new exam.

“If they, July 1, decide on a set of standards, what kind of high-stakes assessment are they going to have ready to go in 10 months?” Ahlgrim said.

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