Teachers from every grade level of St. Charles School District 303 are spending much of the week in high school classrooms, working to develop English language arts curriculum that complements the year-end goals for each grade.
It’s a process that will take at least eight six-hour days, but it is one representatives from each school eagerly take on.
“They’re so excited to get to work every day,” Debi Wright, assistant director of curriculum K-12, said. “They do feel a real sense of responsibility to the teachers they’re bringing [the plans] back to.”
St. Charles and other school districts throughout Illinois are working to implement the state’s new standards, which are known as the New Illinois State Learning Standards Incorporating the Common Core.
Illinois adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, making it one of 45 states to have done so. The Common Core establishes new standards for math and English language arts; provides consistent learning expectations for students; and provides higher, clearer, deeper real-life learning for college and career.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, the state-led movement to use common standards makes it more likely that a student moving from one state to another will face similar content and expectations, and graduates will be better able to collaborate and compete with their peers in the global economy.
“We’ve always had learning standards in Illinois and other states,” State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch said in a written statement. “Now as states, we’re offering a similar roadmap with updated benchmarks to reflect the best current day research and practices.”
Illinois last updated its learning standards for English language arts and math in 1997.
Brad Newkirk, chief academic officer for Batavia PSchool District 101, said parents are very engaged with the Common Core Standards.
“I get more questions, I get more comments about Common Core and where the district is at than I have with any other curriculum initiative,” Newkirk said.
That, he said, is something to celebrate.
“It’s a positive step because we’re partners in education with our parents,” Newkirk said. “In order to have a true partnership, everyone has to know the objectives. It gives us objectives to build our curriculum around. We can say this is the target, and how can we work together to get there?”
That’s the question St. Charles teachers are asking themselves this week.
Michelle Fitzgerald, director of curriculum K-12 at District 303, said teachers are taking the Common Core’s list of standards for English language arts and putting them into meaningful six- and nine-week units based on a theme bringing the Common Core together.
“Teachers see that this is a challenge, but it’s a challenge they can overcome,” said Newkirk, noting Batavia also is doing curriculum work this week.
In addition to outlining specific goals by grade level rather than by grade clusters, the new standards are more rigorous, the District 303 curriculum administrators said. For example, Fitzgerald said, by the end of eighth grade, students should know linear algebra – a skill they likely would have learned in ninth grade under the old system.
The new standards also are changing the way educators teach, Fitzgerald said. With math, the old thinking was to teach material “a mile wide and an inch deep,” but now the thinking has reversed to “an inch wide and a mile deep,” she said. She noted that could mean more time spent on a skill, such as multiplication.
“When we look at Common Core,” Newkirk said, “it’s more about teaching practices and reforming them to get to the heart of learning.”