Boise School District administrator Ann Farris was given a problem to solve. She went to her experts for help.
Problem: Implement Common Core Standards
Farris and other district administrators selected a team of 100 teachers to figure out how to make sweeping changes in the way the Boise School District educates kids. The teachers split into small groups and spent eight days developing steps for implementing Common Core. Every school in the district was represented on the team.
“It’s a monumental task and there are no magical answers,” Farris said. “There are 100 ways to do this process, but we needed to find out what makes sense for us.”
The Boise School District is on the front end of implementing the Common Core Standards. These nationwide standards define the knowledge and skills students should learn during their K-12 education so they will succeed in college, technical schools or the workforce.
The Boise School District’s team of teachers first met in the fall to perform a “curricular crosswalk,” a color-coded system comparing Boise’s current curriculum with Common Core standards and state standards. The cross-referencing task helped the teachers visualize a realistic path to take. The team identified the gaps that needed to be filled in current offerings, and the places where no change would be necessary.
“It’s about more new rigor than more new material. Common Core cuts out unnecessary things. It’s very exciting,” said Amber Tetrick, a ninth-grade English teacher at Hillside Junior High and a member of the district’s Common Core taskforce. “The enthusiasm went up about Common Core when we realized what we were going to get to do in the future.”
Forming the team and doing the work created relationships among peers in the Boise School District. It also fostered buy-in from those on the team who will be responsible for leading their buildings through the shift.
“This will move our instruction to maximize student learning,’’ said Farris.
Boise begins implementing Common Core this fall with 17 pilot schools (nine elementary, four junior highs and four high schools). These staffs will receive two trainings in March and April and a third in September. They will meet regularly with district administration to share what works and what doesn’t. These schools will set the standard for district-wide implementation by 2013-14. The first assessment school year in Idaho is 2014-15.
“There is a direct link between Common Core and the level of readiness students will have post graduation,” Tetrick said. “Students will exit with more skills than they would have had.”
Common Core shifts education from fact-based to question-oriented — from knowing to thinking. Instead of asking students to “write” something, students will be asked to “analyze” or “develop a critical argument.”
“With Common Core, they can be engineers of whatever they want to do,” said Cathy Sorger, a sixth-grade teacher at Amity Elementary and a member of the Common Core taskforce. “They will be able to solve problems they never thought they could.”
The next important steps for the district are to add professional development and new materials and textbooks.
“This will help the teacher be more relevant,’’ Tetrick said.
Farris admitted that more discussion and planning needs to occur to make sure the “forgotten middle” students aren’t forgotten.
“Common core will certainly provide challenges for at-risk learners, however, this will raise the level of our programs as we reexamine intervention and alternative curriculum to raise the level of academics for all students,’’ Farris said.
Sorger said: “This is going to be so cool three years down the line.”