Students in the San Ramon Valley can look forward to having to learn less, but think more deeply about what they learn as the school district moves to new standards for learning.
Common Core State Standards will be implemented nationwide in the coming school year. In all, 45 states have opted in -- not counting Minnesota, which will use English language arts but not math Common Core standards. The goal is to make the U.S. more competitive with other countries and level the playing field, so that all students will be equally educated and college ready when they graduate high school.
Toni Taylor, director of educational services for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, said the district is trying to get ready for the new standards.
"We are in the process of training our entire teaching staff on the new Common Core State Standards and will make every effort to prepare our students for the initial assessments in 2014-2015," Taylor said. "SRVUSD was fortunate to be selected as a pilot district this year for the new assessments. Bollinger Elementary School, Country Club Elementary, Golden View Elementary, Montair Elementary, Montevideo Elementary, Sycamore Elementary, Tassajara Elementary, Vista Grande Elementary and Windemere Ranch Middle School all participated in a scientific pilot."
One of the motivating factors behind creating the standards is the number of graduates who need remedial English or math classes in college before they can move into a degree program.
Common Core is meant to be a "staircase to readiness," meaning the creators looked at what incoming college students would need to know when they graduated, then looked at what they'd need to know in eleventh grade to get them ready for twelfth and so on, down to the kindergarten level.
Taylor said it's too soon to tell how the district will do in standardized testing.
"If our students are taking only the federally required assessments -- English language arts and math, eighth grade science and tenth grade life science -- we do not know how the academic performance index will be calculated," Taylor said. "However, it only stands to reason that the longer students are exposed to the strategies embedded in the CCSS, the better prepared they will be for the types of performance tasks they will complete on the SBAC assessments."
Students will be asked to do more non-fiction reading to prepare them to read technical work, which is required in college and in many jobs.
There will be fewer standards than what's currently required, but students will be asked have a greater depth of knowledge.
For example, a student might be asked to describe three characteristics of metamorphic rocks, which requires simple recall. The student may next be asked to describe the difference between metamorphic and igneous rocks, which requires a higher level of thinking to determine the differences in the two rock types. Moving to the next level, strategic thinking, the student may be asked to describe a model that you might use to represent the relationships that exist within the rock cycle, which requires a deep understanding of the rock cycle and figuring out how best to represent it.
While teachers in many districts have balked at some of the new requirements, Taylor said teachers in the San Ramon Valley are embracing the changes.
"Most of our teachers are very excited to see the change that the Common Core State Standards bring," she said. "They see this as an opportunity to engage their students in higher level critical thinking, problem-solving and project-based learning."
Computer-based tests will eventually replace STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) tests, but for now -- unless new legislation proposed by Torlakson passes -- students could have to take both the STAR test and the Common Core test.
For now, Taylor said, the California High School Exit Exam will still be required because it's part of the federally mandated testing requirement under No Child Left Behind.
However, she said, "There is ongoing conversation at the state level about possible replacements in the future."