The next big shift in education appears to be coming from the states and not from the federal government.
Monett R-1 Assistant Superintendent Brad Hanson said Monett educators have begun fine tuning the curriculum to align with the common core state standards. Rather than wait to see what replaces the No Child Left Behind, all 50 states have ratified new common core state standards designed to make students ready for college or a career.
"The process will create more consistency between the states," Hanson said. "Right now, a student can move to Missouri from another state and face totally different expectations."
The R-1 District plans to transition to the new standards by the 2014-15 school year. In the process, some subjects will shift to different grades or instruction will take a different shape than is used currently. Faculty members have begun identifying where the changes will occur and how to make the transition.
For example, communication arts will be renamed English language arts, Hanson said. There will be a higher emphasis on non-fiction informational writing as opposed to narrative writing. The expectations for reading will be a lot higher at each grade level.
In math, Hanson said there will be a general emphasis on greater rigor and higher level thinking. Concepts will be introduced earlier. Students typically learn fractions in fourth and fifth grades. That instruction will move to third and fourth grades.
Algebra will move to the eighth grade from high school. One of the challenges facing teachers is to find a fitting substitute to introduce at the high school level.
"Our teams have representatives in both English language arts and math from each grade level," Hanson said. "At their first meeting, they identified where we are now with the grade level expectations for lower grades and the course level expectations for high school. The main emphasis was, 'Are we solid there?' Then we looked at the common core relations to see what we are missing and how do we get there?"
How the common core standards will be measured are still taking shape. Hanson said two different groups of states are developing their own tests, some participating in both. There are 24 states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness (PARCC). Missouri is in the Smarter Balance Assessment group, which is leaning toward testing students in third through eighth grades and having an end-of-high-school exam that will likely be taken by 11th graders.
According to Hanson, education leaders in the federal government decided two approaches would likely lead to one better solution than creating one strategy for everyone. Other factors, like reauthorization of No Child Left Behind and funding constraints, could push the entire process back a year or two.
"We're starting preparations now, so this year's kindergarten class will be the first group that will be assessed under the common core in third grade," Hanson said.
Recommendations for curriculum changes will be made to the Board of Education next year. Since every school district is faced with the same challenge, Monett educators will be watching and learning from other schools, Hanson said. He sees a great deal of opportunity for professional development for Monett's teachers as the process unfolds.