Mo. Districts to Prepare Students for Common Core Tests

By Nick Thompson |

Published 08/22 2014 07:06PM

Updated 08/22 2014 08:48PM

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - Missouri school districts will start preparing students this fall for the first ever state standardized tests based on the Common Core State Standards.

The debut of the exams comes right after Gov. Jay Nixon signed legislation over the summer to scrap the standards and form advisory committees to come up with new standards for English, math, science and social studies. There will be an advisory committee for each subject in grades K-5 and committees for each subject in grades 6-12. The panels will begin work in October and will have a year to develop new standards, with roll-out scheduled for the 2016-2017 school year.

While the advisory committees are working, districts will be able to test students on the Common Core in English and Math in the 2014-2015 school year.

Common Core is a set of expectations for what students should be able to do at each grade level to be college and career ready. The standards have become a hot-button topic nationally, with opponents arguing the standards take away local control from school boards, teachers and parents.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) adopted the standards in 2010 and local school districts have been working to implement them. Missouri is one of 22 states in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Smarter Balanced serves as the testing vendor for Missouri's standardized English and math standardized tests.

Springfield Public Schools Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Marty Moore said the Common Core standards have overlapped with efforts the district was already taking to increase rigor for students. Moore said the lingo for standards in Springfield is "instructional goals."

Moore said groups of teachers form instructional goals and then build the curriculum needed to get students to achieve those goals. Moore said the expectations of Common Core are compounded with the expectations teachers have for their students on classroom quizzes and projects.

Moore said Common Core has not dramatically changed how Springfield educates its students, but there have been a few notable changes. Moore said there is a big emphasis in English on nonfiction texts over fiction and in math students have to articulate how they got their answer.

The Smarter Balanced tests have also lead to technology upgrades. Students will take the exams online, instead of with pencil-and-paper, as they did in the past on MAP tests. Instead of filling in a bubble with the correct answer on a math exam, students may have to type out an explanation of how they solved the problem.

Moore said she does not understand the backlash to Common Core, saying the standards give teachers the flexibility to come up with the lessons needed to get students ready for the tests.

"If they [DESE] had come in and said, you must teach out of this book and every child has to be on page 7 on Tuesday, that may have been a problem," Moore said. "But what they said is in third grade or eighth grade, or high school English, these are the things that kids need to be successful in the world today."

A Gallup poll conducted in June shows 59 percent of Americans opposed the standards while 33 percent favor them. Of those who oppose them, 65 percent said a "very important" reason for opposing the standards is they would limit flexibility for teachers.

The poll also found 56 percent of Americans think the local, elected school board is the most important authority on education. Many Missouri districts began phasing in the Common Core without a vote from the local school board. DESE adopted the standards without approval from the Legislature.

Many state lawmakers said they voted to scrap the standards because they thought too many voices were left out of the process. As the advisory committees complete work, they could end up keeping many of the concepts from Common Core.

Moore said she hopes the next set of standards will keep an emphasis on deeper thinking because "that's what's best for kids."

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