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Questions about the SDUHSD Transition to Common Core

Questions related to students and the classroom

Assessment-related questions

The SDUHSD Transition to Common CoreTop of Page

What is the SDUHSD doing to ensure a smooth transition to Common Core?
Our district's transition to Common Core will be gradual and collaborative. Our transition to CCSS-aligned instruction will take place over multiple years, and will leverage the collaborative model we've built in our Professional Learning Communities. Teachers and administrators will be supported through a series of professional development activities, both at the district and site levels. In the 2013-14 school year, teachers in the SDUHSD will begin to experiment with Common Core-aligned lessons and debrief those experiences with their colleagues. We have a team of eight Teachers on Special Assignment and experienced teacher leaders and administrators who provide professional development and support for their colleagues.

What about our school’s API scores?
A school’s API score (Academic Performance Index) is calculated using results of the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) program and the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE). Given the coming changes in assessment statewide, API has been suspended.  The state of California is still making decisions about how a school’s API will be calculated under the new statewide assessment system. 

Does Common Core mean new textbooks?
As funds become available from the State, we will adopt new curricular materials. We are currently reviewing textbooks for adoption in math. Common Core-aligned textbook adoption will follow the same processes as for all previous textbook adoptions, including intensive review by a panel of teachers, parent and community review and School Board approval.

How is the SDUHSD working with its feeder elementary districts?
We are working actively with the five districts that send students to us to ensure curricular alignment and a smooth academic transition for students as they move from one district to another. Our collaboration will help ensure a fluid course sequence from elementary to middle school, particularly in mathematics. 

What is SDUHSD doing to support professional development for teachers to ensure that my student continues to benefit from high-quality instruction?
To support our professional staff in the transition from the STAR testing and reporting system to CCSS, teachers in core academic subjects are participating in a series of Common Core professional development workshops, developed both in-house and drawing on outside expertise as needed. Teachers benefit from on-campus support for Common Core implementation through our Administrators, Teachers on Special Assignment for Common Core, and from each other through their work in Professional Learning Communities. We’re developing online curricular resource banks to support the development of Common Core-aligned curriculum in our courses. 

Questions related to students and the classroomTop of Page

I’ve heard the CCSS are more rigorous than the California Content Standards. What does this mean?
The Common Core State Standards and their associated assessments demand that students delve deeper into fewer standards, and demonstrate critical thinking and reasoning skills.  The new assessments are aligned with our new state standards, which were designed to encourage critical thinking, analytical writing, and real-world problem solving. These are skills students will need in order to be successful in college and career.  Questions that require abstract thinking, synthesis, and analysis will make up 50 to 60 percent of the new state assessments. This is a dramatic increase in rigor over past state assessments. 
What will my student’s coursework look like under Common Core?
You’ll see that your student will be reading a wide variety of texts, from fiction to informational and technical texts. Students will be asked to cite evidence directly from texts and to write argumentatively. Students will be working more collaboratively as well as with materials from a wide variety of multimedia sources. Students will be using a variety of technologies to create a range of products for their courses. Common Core-aligned courses are relevant and rigorous and include real-world applications of knowledge. Learn about the changes in educational practice or “instructional shifts” that will take place with Common Core and what parents and guardians can do to reinforce them. 

Math courses will include problems that may have multiple solutions and multiple ways of solving them. Students will be asked to persevere in solving challenging problems, and to apply previous learning in new ways to solve problems. You’ll see your student being asked to explain his or her reasoning and to critique the reasoning of others. Rather than asking students to solve many of the same types of problems, homework in math may involve a variety of problem types, critical thinking and real-world application of mathematics. 

Math courses in the SDUHSD will shift from the traditional Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II to a more Common Core aligned integrated mathematics sequence. This means that the concepts of Algebra and Geometry will no longer be separated at the middle and high schools. Each course will connect and build the concepts of Algebra, Functions, Geometry, Statistics and Mathematical Modeling in preparation for the Grade 11 assessment of the Common Core State Standards. 

You mention "collaboration" as a feature in Common Core classrooms. How will teachers make sure that, as can happen in a group work situation, one kid doesn’t do all the work for the group?
Many people think of "collaboration" as "group projects". While a teacher may certainly give group projects under Common Core, "collaboration" can be as simple as a teacher asking kids to figure out how to solve a problem together, or discuss a question about a reading passage with a partner. With Common Core, you'll see students discussing their thought process, learning from each other, and critiquing each other's reasoning in a constructive way.

How will students be graded on open-ended questions? Common Core sounds a little subjective.
On the Smarter Balanced Assessments, open-ended questions (also called "constructed response" questions) will be scored with a rubric. You can see sample items and their accompanying rubrics here.

With the increase in non-fiction under Common Core, does this mean kids will no longer read Shakespeare and other great works of fiction?
When we talk about in increase in non-fiction under Common Core, we mean an increase in the amount of non-fiction and technical sources a student will read across all of his or her classes, not just in English class. Literacy instruction (how to read and write) will take place throughout the school day. Students will continue to read fiction.

With the increase in rigor in "regular" classes under Common Core, how will honors and AP classes look different?
Our honors and AP classes will continue to engage students at high levels of cognitive rigor. Many of our “regular” and current AP and honors classes are already very “Common Core” in that they require students to read at high levels, think critically and write cohesively. Rigor under Common Core doesn’t mean “more homework”, it means more intellectually challenging tasks, and learning tasks that ask students to synthesize material from multiple sources. Our honors and AP classes will be more cognitively demanding than our college prep courses.

What about kids who are struggling?
Students who struggle under Common Core will still be able to access the same kinds of supports as students who need them now--support from their teachers, peer tutors, and other interventions available on campus. The word “struggle” can have positive connotations as well. Students may very well struggle in school. Author and educator Robyn Jackson notes, “In a productive struggle...students grapple with the issues and are able to come up with a solution themselves, developing persistence and resilience in pursuing and attaining the learning goal or understanding. In productive struggles, kids have developed the necessary strategies for working through something difficult. They can also take a teacher's suggestions for help and run with them.” Common Core aims to help students become self-directed learners who can “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them”, turning “struggle” into true learning.

Will there be “flipped classrooms” with Common Core?
If a teacher wishes to "flip" portions of his or her classes (having students watch an instructional video for homework and having kids work on problems in class--where they REALLY need teacher support) that is certainly possible under Common Core. Teachers are not required to flip their classrooms, however.

Where can I find the list of grade-level approved non-fiction texts?
The following text samples primarily serve to exemplify the level of complexity and quality that the Standards require all students in a given grade band to engage with. Additionally, they are suggestive of the breadth of texts that students should encounter in the text types required by the Standards. The choices should serve as useful guideposts in helping educators select texts of similar complexity, quality, and range for their own classrooms. They expressly do not represent a partial or complete reading list. Teachers will continue to have the freedom to choose materials that are appropriate for their courses. Sample texts are available in Appendix B of the Standards.

Assessment-Related QuestionsTop of Page

How long are these tests?
As with CSTs, Smarter Balanced assessments are designed as untimed tests; some students may need and should be afforded more time. Smarter Balanced will use data collected through the Pilot and Field Tests to revise estimated testing times.  Students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 will use computers or tablets to take the state assessments. The computer-based testing will include embedded supports that will give students the opportunity to fully demonstrate their knowledge and mastery of the state standards in English language arts and mathematics. 
For students who struggle to focus on a screen, is there a paper and pencil option?
There are modifications built into the assessments for students with IEPs, as well as universal supports (like a zoom) available for all students. While there is not paper and pencil option available for students who have issues focusing on a screen, universal supports, designated supports and modifications are built into these new assessments (including color contrast and font size) that will help students access the assessment.

My student has an IEP or a 504 plan. What will that look like on the new assessments? 
Our special education department is working to ensure that students with an IEP or 504 plan receive appropriate accommodations on the new statewide assessments. Changes will be made to IEPs as appropriate to support student achievement under these new, more rigorous standards. 

How are these new assessments going to capture greater depth of knowledge?
The things we expect students to know and be able to do in order to be successful in college and career have changed, so our assessments had to change as well. These new assessments capture greater depth of knowledge by asking more complex questions than student have seen on previous standardized tests. They may be asked to "select all answers that apply" as opposed to simple multiple choice. There are short answer and essay questions, as well as performance tasks that ask students to synthesize material from multiple sources.

Can you explain “computer-adaptive” testing? 
Computer adaptive testing represents a significant improvement over traditional paper-and-pencil assessments used in many states today. Computer adaptive testing adjusts to a student’s ability by basing the difficulty of future questions on previous answers, providing more accurate measurement of student achievement, particularly for high and low-performing students. For more information, download a CAT factsheet and webinar.

When a student is taught the Common Core State Standards, how will this impact his or her success on college entrance exams (ACT/SAT) or AP tests?
ACT reports that ACT's Course Standards and College Readiness Standards™ successfully align with the Common Core State Standards. The ACT, SAT and AP tests are either currently aligned to the CCSS, or are in the process of being aligned. ACT anticipates that their test will be CCSS-aligned in the spring of 2015 and SAT anticipates Common Core alignment in the spring of 2016. As AP tests are revised, CCSS will be taken into consideration.

Since CCSS is being rolled out gradually, won’t scores on the Smarter Balanced Assessments be low at first?
The SDUSHD firmly believes that if we focus on high-quality instruction, the test scores will take care of themselves. We are also approaching our transition to common core in a gradual, thoughtful way. Test scores should show improvement over time, as Common Core becomes more thoroughly implemented. The new assessments are fundamentally too different from the old exams to make any reliable comparisons between old scores and new ones. Rather, this year’s results will establish a baseline for the progress we expect students to make over time. Think of it as pushing the reset button on assessment results and getting a fresh start.

Are there enough computers at school for students to take the Smarter Balanced Assessments?
Yes. Administrators and teachers at all schools are working to develop plans and schedules for rotating students through the required testing, beginning with the pilot assessments this spring. We are purchasing computers based on identified needs, and verifying that all machines are compatible with the Smarter Balanced testing platform.

English is not my son’s first language. It sounds like these new assessments will be a challenge.
The same Common Core standards that apply to students for whom English is their first language apply to English Language Learners (ELLs). These students may require additional instruction in order to grasp the Common Core standards. The flexibility afforded to teachers to decide how best to instruct their students will be particularly critical for those teaching ELL students, who may require more creative instruction. Click here for more information. 

Are these new assessments given nationwide?
42 states have adopted the Common Core. Common Core adopting states then joined one of 2 assessment consortia. California joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. California's assessments of Common Core are written by Smarter Balanced, as are the assessments of all 15 Smarter Balanced member states.