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New standards change the way students in D204, D203 learn

Kathy Birkett

Kathy Birkett

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Updated: February 28, 2013 6:46AM



Standards for students in Naperville and across the state are changing, and educational leaders hope it will be a game changer when it comes to student achievement.

“I’ve been in education 34 years and they are the single biggest change I’ve seen in my career,” School District 204 Superintendent Kathy Birkett said of the new Common Core State Standards.

Birkett, along with School District 203 Superintendent Dan Bridges and other local school leaders, took part in a program at the Naperville Municipal Center sponsored by the Naperville Area Homeowners Confederation recently to give residents the lowdown on the new benchmarks.

The Common Core Standards are an attempt to make the nation’s public education system competitive with any in the world, participants at the forum said. The standards began to be put in place in the fall for math and literacy. New standards for science are still being developed.

Both District 203 and 204 have worked to get the word out about the Common Core approach. Birkett, on the District 204 website, said that the standards are something every parent needs to know about.

“The standards will replace existing state standards and involve more rigor, with an emphasis on developing critical thinking skills,” Birkett wrote. “It will no longer be about finding the right answer, but being able to explain how you came to that answer. In a global economy, students must be prepared to compete with not only their American peers in other states, but with students from around the world. These standards will help prepare students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed and compete in the global market.”

District 203 Superintendent for Learning Jennifer Hester and District 204 Chief Academic Officer Kathy Duncan also said that critical thinking skills are a main goal of the new standards.

An example of the shift in focus would be a math question that before would involve a set process and be judged solely on a single answer. The new standards stress not only having the right answer, but explaining how the answer was arrived at and if there are alternative ways to reach the same conclusion.

That change in approach, often using technology to aid in the process, is not intended for math only.

“There will be an integration of critical thinking across the curriculum,” Hester said.

Responding to a question from the audience as to specific changes, Hester said there would “now be more math talk and math discussion,” while Duncan stressed that different paths to an answer would also be examined.

“How else can you get that” will be a typical question from a teacher in math class, she said.

The Common Core Standards will also have an emphasis on non-fiction works for high school students, with a scheduled 70/30 ratio of non-fiction to fiction. Non-fiction texts are thought to be especially important for those entering the work force, but particularly for those entering jobs right after high school, the event’s participants said.

Retired career development specialist Mary Anne Buckman said that employers often told her that job applicants were substandard in terms of critical thinking and problem solving. She said that over her career, employers had never been totally pleased with students right out of school, but seemed particularly unhappy “over the last five or six years.”

Birkett stressed that the Common Core Standards are designed to help all students, from those going to work right after high school to those going to college.

“There’s this perception that Common Core is about the high-end kids,” she said. “It’s not.”

The new standards have already had an impact in Naperville. All-day kindergarten is considered by many experts to be critical for success in meeting Common Core Standards, especially for at-risk students. All-day kindergarten is already available in District 204 and District 203 is in the process of implementing it.

Bridges said the need for more class time for kindergartners is critical, calling the half-day classes he has observed “frantic.”

While there are some costs associated with implementing Common Core — changes needed to bring all-day kindergarten to District 203, and substantial technology investments in both Naperville districts, for example — neither Bridges nor Birkett thought the spending would be outside the scope of normal operating expenses.



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