Alabama Classrooms Switching to Common Core Standards

By: Rena Havner Philips, Press-Register
By: Rena Havner Philips, Press-Register

MOBILE, Alabama -- Math instruction is going to be different this year in local schools, as Alabama is one of 45 states to have adopted the Common Core Standards.

State officials said the approach, which is being labeled here as Alabama’s College and Career Standards, involves a more common sense, relevant way of teaching that will better prepare students for college or the workforce.

Students will be asked to reach “rigorous, yet attainable” academic goals each year, according to the state. Parents will get specific information about what their children should be learning each year, so they’ll know all along if they are on track to graduate.

And if a student moves from one state to another, he’ll be learning basically the same things, officials said.

Alabama will transition in 2013-14 to the Common Core in reading/language arts, which will address other areas of the curriculum such as science and social studies.

Students “won’t just be memorizing facts to regurgitate on a test,” said Philip Cleveland who oversees career-technical education and workforce development for the Alabama Department of Education.

Instead, they’ll learn how to apply what they’re learning to life. For example, they might learn how to take the area of a room, and figure out how much it would cost to install carpet and tiling. Then, they would decide which option is cheaper or better and come up with points to justify why they’d pick one over the other.

When studying Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America, they will learn more than just that it happened in 1492. They’ll be asked: Why did he feel a need to sail across the ocean? How did the discovery come about? And what would have happened if he didn’t land here?

“For the last 10 years, we’ve spent so much time trying to get students to reach minimum proficiency that the good teaching that we knew could’ve taken place, didn’t,” said Julie Hannah, director of student readiness for the state. Now, she said, educators will be asking: “What type of workers do we need? And what do we need to teach children for them to be successful?”

Local teachers and principals have been gearing up for Common Core for the past two years, with training sessions picking up over the summer, said Catherine Rogers, principal of Dixon Elementary in Irvington.

It’s an entirely new way of teaching, Rogers said, that won’t look anything like a teacher standing in front of a classroom, with students taking notes and memorizing them for a test. Students won’t be able to sit idle.

“It’s better because what you will find is children that are much more engaged. They have to use their heads much more. They have to write, to integrate, to use their critical-thinking skills,“ Rogers said. “It’s not just reading a passage and circling the answer.... It’s a deeper understanding and participation.“

Deputy Superintendent Sherrill Parris said that under the former standards, which were measured by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools could be labeled as being up to par, for example, if about 80 percent of the students passed reading and math tests. Yet, officials have heard from businesses that schools aren’t preparing graduates for jobs. And as many as one-third of college freshmen have been required to take remedial classes because they weren’t ready for high-level work.

“We’re not satisfied with the progress we’ve made,” Hannah said. “We want to do better.”

The state also hopes to phase in a new system of rating schools over the next three years called Plan 2020. It would be a more complicated system where schools would be judged by how much individual students learn over the course of a school year and on whether students are graduating with job or college skills. That might include looking at ACT college entrance exam scores as well as how many students graduate with certification to work in industry.

State officials said during a news conference late last week that there has been much misinformation about Common Core. Some have said it’s a federally mandated curriculum. But, according to the state, the standards were developed by groups of state school superintendents and governors and included input from teachers and the public.

Some federal funding, though, including billions of dollars in President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top competition, required that states adopt the Common Core to be eligible.

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