In 2010, the education systems in the United States switched to the Common Core Standards, a curriculum with higher educational standards for children in grades kindergarten through 12th.
While West Virginia implemented the standards in 2010, educators and the legislature have struggled to find common ground with Common Core. There is currently a movement of individuals called “West Virginia Against Common Core.” The organization gave a presentation to the legislature December 2014 to ask lawmakers to discontinue the standards.
For Pocahontas County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Donald Bechtel, the Common Core – which is referred to as Next Generation Standards in West Virginia – is a step in the right direction for the education system of West Virginia and the country as a whole.
“I feel like it’s providing our children and our teachers with definitely high standards,” Bechtel said. “We need to prepare our kids for the global economy. The Common Core is helping us say ‘children need to use their knowledge and ultimately solve the unpredicted problems.’ It is a seismic shift and that’s why some people are having a hard time with it. We’re living in more complex times where we need to help children access all their knowledge and their problem solving skills, and think at much higher levels.”
The Next Generation Standards are designed as stepping stones from one grade to another to help students make an easier transition from year-to-year.
“It’s a different level of engagement and it’s like a staircase,” Bechtel said. “When I say seismic shift – we’re going to begin to see more group work where kids are working with one another and saying ‘you have knowledge, I have knowledge, we can solve a situation together.’ Within the Common Core, there is a communication component which is a little bit different. It’s a real critical component because employers are saying we need kids who can convey their thoughts and can collaborate.”
For example, in a math class, the teacher will write a word problem on the board and instead of each student solving the problem, they will work in groups of four and bounce ideas off each other and find the best way to solve the problem. Along with learning the math problem, the students are learning to communicate their answers, and the methods they use to reach the answers.
Coordinator of teaching and learning Christina Smith said having the students collaborate in groups is a way to get all students engaged in the class discussion, as well.
“I don’t know if the collaboration part is really part of the standards but I think just nationwide, that’s a move that we’re making because we’re showing that students are participating and engaged when they collaborate,” she said. “It’s a lot of times more comfortable for students to talk to their peers about things rather than answer in front of the whole class. They feel more comfortable in that more intimate group.”
The staircase system is also helpful to children in families who move a lot for jobs, Bechtel added.
“Families who transition because of say, the service and/or jobs – in past years, often times, those kids could have missed out in really critical education in their lives,” he said. “Say for instance, multiplying decimals – some states did it in fourth grade, others in fifth grade. So say a family moves from State A to State B and they have two different standards. The child misses out.
“This way, when they go from State A to State B, they’re going to be in fifth grade or fourth grade and there’s going to be commonality, which is a real benefit for highly mobile areas,” Bechtel continued.
The Next Generation also allows the teachers to spend more time on lessons because there are fewer standards to meet and the standards are more specific.
“They are a lot more specific so that teachers aren’t trying to guess what they should be focusing on,” Smith said. “A lot of the Common Core State Standards are very specific and, say ‘we want you to cover this, this and this,’ which helps teachers narrow the focus of the class.”
Common Core was developed by education leaders in 48 states. The textbooks and standardized tests for the standards were developed by consortiums of educators. The goal was to create textbooks directly linked to the Common Core and tests which focus on engaging the students instead of just asking them to choose A, B, C or D.
“A lot of the people that are creating the textbooks are also the ones who wrote the Common Core, so we have people who know it in and out,” Smith said. “The standards are embedded within that textbook rather than the teachers having to go and pick and choose resources to help support the standards. It’s nice that there is that continuity. The teachers are getting used to using these standards. They’ve developed lessons that go with the standards.
“The state assessment is called Smarter Balanced and the questions were created by a consortium,” Smith continued. “It’s not a company making a lot of money. It’s a bunch of states coming together who helped create it.”
Both Bechtel and Smith agree that the Next Generation Standards are a move in the right direction for the students of West Virginia.
“I think it’s a great strength where we can now speak a common language with other school systems in other states,” Bechtel said. “It’s going to help us all grow professionally to be able to talk to educators other places that have similar demographics who are showing strengths and for them to talk to us. The potential there is great.”
“I think that we need to stick with it,” Smith said. “I think it will be nice to be able to compare ourselves with other states using the standards. I think that’s going to be really useful to see where we stand and maybe areas we can improve, and be able to reach out to other states to see what they are doing to help their children succeed in areas where we’re lacking.”
The Next Generation Standards are available to the public on the West Virginia Department of Education website at wveis.k12.wv.us/Teach21/public/ng_cso/NG_CSO.cfm
The standards are for English/Language Arts, Mathematics and Social Studies.
Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org