As 2014 rapidly approaches, area school administrators are looking for ways to ensure that they are keeping on top of the demands of the Common Core Learning Standards.
However, despite a rocky implementation of the Common Core into New York state school districts this year, some superintendents are saying that the worst may be behind them.
"I think we're getting better at teaching to the Common Core," said Bert Lictus, shared superintendent of Clymer and Panama school districts. "We're past the implementation stage, and I think the staff is more comfortable with the instructional side of it. The standards are much more rigorous and, like a lot of districts, we're doing the best we can with the resources we've been given as we continue to work hard and try to help our students be successful."
Despite a rocky implementation of the Common Core into New York state school districts this year, some superintendents are saying that the worst may be behind them.
P-J file photo by Gavin Paterniti
Jon Peterson, superintendent of Cattaraugus-Little Valley Central School, said he has noticed student improvement in his district, as they have shown their capability in meeting the expectations set forth by the standards.
"Here in my school, it's a challenge. But, my teachers are telling me they're seeing really good things out of the kids," Peterson said. "Even though the modules increase the rigor of the curriculum, the kids are rising to the occasion; and my teachers are happy about that."
On the flip side, Peterson said the Common Core has widened the performance gap among students in his district; an issue he said needs to be corrected.
"That's a big concern for us in moving forward," Peterson said.
"With what's happening now, the level of rigor in the Common Core standards has now created even greater separation between the kids that are achieving at grade level and the kids that aren't," Peterson continued. "We don't want those kids to fall further behind, but we also don't want to slow down the other kids. That will be a big challenge in terms of implementation, but we're up for the challenge."
While students and teachers will have a better idea of what to expect when they resume classes this week, districts will be striving to find a balance of successful implementation of the standards while allowing for teacher creativity as they form their lesson plans. According to Stephen Penhollow, superintendent of Falconer Central School, this is a main priority in his district.
"I believe that (state Education Department) Commissioner King is firmly resolved to full implementation of the Common Core, and we, as public school districts in New York state, are required by educational law to implement them," Penhollow said. "Here at Falconer, we're stressing that we really need to focus on the creativity of our teachers to look at the modules, and to adapt them in a way that best meets the needs of our students. We want to allow our teachers and principals to make adjustments as needed to fit their requirements and the needs of every child within their classes."
Maureen Donahue, superintendent of Southwestern Central School, agreed that her teachers should be allowed flexibility in their teaching methods, but said that can only be achieved through the district's provision of the necessary resources to its teaching staff.
"I think that it's very critical to understand that, with the modules, districts have a choice to adapt, adopt or ignore them. Here at Southwestern, we continue to adapt to the modules; and we are still very much in the learning phase," Donahue said. "One of the things we're looking at is making sure we're advocating for the resources that we need. That's something I'm worried about because there seems to be inequities in New York state due to budget constraints. We need more time for professional development, but I'm extremely pleased with how our teachers are spending an extraordinary amount of time adapting modules for what works best with our students."
As far as Chris Reilly, president of the Jamestown Teachers Association, is concerned, the curriculum modules themselves are in dire need of improvement. Reilly made this abundantly clear when speaking to Commissioner King during a public forum held at the Jamestown High School auditorium Dec. 4.
"We, as an association, recognize the need to raise the bar and do things differently. We get that part, we embrace that part and we have been working our tails off to achieve that part," Reilly told King and approximately 1,000 attendees of the forum.
"But it hasn't been easy," he continued. "The expectations of the Common Core are oftentimes unclear. Modules designed to assist teachers in implementing the Common Core are inadequate, inappropriate and laced with errors. Teachers should not have to check (www.engageny.org) to be alerted to errors found in modules. It's unsettling when good, veteran teachers consistently question the modules and their inappropriateness. If I, as a teacher, planned in this fashion and was this prepared to deliver my lessons, I would no doubt find myself (rated to be) 'ineffective.'"
Reilly went on to cite examples of inappropriate age-related material, such as asking kindergartners - in their second month of schooling - to explain photosynthesis, followed by a lesson on Richard Nixon while "only two students knew that Barack Obama is our current president."
Heading into the new year, Reilly said some type of reform is likely necessary in order to make the modules themselves more efficient.
"I'm not really sure what to expect in the future," Reilly said. "I know that a lot of time and money has gone into the creation of the modules, and I know that a lot of time and money has gone into the copying and creating of the binders that house thousands of pages of modules and related materials. I hear different opinions as to whether or not we just attempt to fix the errors and tweak some things, or whether or not we need to overhaul the entire system."