Weekly Feature

2014-11-26 / Education

Common Core makes role of teacher more important

Superintendent Kenmore Town of Tonawanda School District

There has been much discussion recently regarding the Common Core standards. It is wonderful that so many parents have taken an interest in the quality of instruction in our schools.

We all share a common goal. Our students deserve the best possible education that will prepare them to flourish after high school. All academic subjects, including art, music and physical education, are extremely important and remain strong in our schools. Just as important is providing our students with multiple learning experiences that facilitate critical and complex thinking and mastery over more than just the content. Teaching is core, and the Common Core standards afford our students opportunities for rigorous instruction.

Nationwide research and data suggest that our students are not adequately prepared for college and careers after leaving high school as compared to our global counterparts. According to a College Board analysis released last month, only 42.6 percent of seniors in the Class of 2014 who took the SATs scored high enough to be considered ready for college and careers.

Thus, the Common Core standards were designed with one question in mind. What skills will our students need in order to be successful when they graduate from high school to either enter college or begin a career?

The Common Core standards were adopted by the New York State Board of Regents. All school districts, including our own, are held to them. These rigorous new standards have been implemented throughout the state and most of the country. When our students apply for college or a job, they will be competing against students from districts that have successfully implemented the Common Core. Students will not be exempted from the state’s rigorous new requirements, and we have a responsibility to prepare our students to meet these standards and best prepare them for their future. Our students deserve opportunities to be competitive. Traditional classroom instruction has focused predominantly on delivering information and receiving an answer directly related to the content. The Common Core standards have shifted the instructional emphasis to the learning process, complex thinking to foster creativity and problem solving. The expectation for instruction is much more rigorous and more closely aligned with the skills students need in order to be successful in college and their selected jobs. A common criticism is that these new standards result in “teaching to the test.” This is simply not true, nor is it in fact what teachers are being asked to do. Teaching — best first instruction — is the core.

Teachers are teaching to a rigorous standard or expectation. Teachers assess students multiple times a day to continually check for their understanding and monitor growth. Common Core assessments are designed to determine whether students understand what they are being taught and are just one type of assessment used regularly in classrooms. This is an integral part of the curriculum, instruction and assessment cycle.

When teachers have a good understanding of what their students know and can do, they are able to make appropriate instructional decisions. Such decisions may include identifying appropriate content, sequencing and pacing lessons, modifying or extending activities for student needs, and choosing effective instructional strategies. Teachers make instructional decisions and adapt teaching to meet the needs of students. The quality of teachers’ instructional decisions depends, in part, on the quality of their assessment and their purposeful sampling of evidence during instruction. When teachers use appropriate evidence of what their students understand and can do in making instructional decisions, their teaching responds to individual and group needs.

Assessments provide the evidence about student progress, enabling teachers to analyze their teaching to inform their instruction and facilitate greater student learning. A common misperception is that the state is now dictating the curriculum through the new standards and that instructional resources such as math and English language arts modules minimize the role of the teacher. The reality is that, with the more rigorous standards, the role of the teacher is perhaps more important today than ever before. Modules are curriculum tools; they provide guidance, lessons, and professional development to help teachers facilitate the learning process.

Student learning is dependent on rigor, relevance and relationships. The most important factor by far is the interaction between the teacher and the student.

These are important discussions to have. The changes that have taken place in the educational landscape over the past few years have been unprecedented. Teachers and parents have had to tackle the colossal challenge of adjusting to these changes in such a short period of time, and angst is understandable. As a community of learners, we will rise to meet any challenge in order to position our students for success. The Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District is so fortunate to have such extremely dedicated teachers and staff, supportive parents and an involved community.

Together we will educate, prepare and inspire all students to achieve their highest potential.

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