curriculum changes

Sarah Martin teaches elementary school math at Iron Station Elementary School on Tuesday.

Teachers and administrators at Lincoln County Schools are preparing for curriculum changes for K-8 math and K-12 language arts for the 2018/2019 school year. These standard changes will define what skills students acquire as they move through grade levels. With these new standards, which are replacing Common Core State Standards enacted in 2012, school districts will be able to determine what instructional materials they use to support these standards. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction has a rotation of every five to seven years where standards are examined, according to LCS assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction Dr. Rhonda Hager. These changes are the result of ongoing review of standards between the DPI, teachers and districts.

The new high school math standards were rolled out at the beginning of the 2017/2018 school year. K-8 math standards will be completely changed for the 2018/2019 school year and students will be tested on the new standards. The changes to K-12 English language art standards will be introduced in 2018/2019 but will be tested on the old standards with a complete change in 2019/2020. 

“We don’t have a transition year for the new K-8 math standards, we are teaching and testing in one fell swoop,” Hager said. “With that being said, it’s a pretty accelerated timeline to roll this out. We’re in training right now and we believe that our outstanding teachers will make this transition smooth for students.”

Sarah Martin, a math teacher at Iron Station Elementary, has been working on her master’s degree in curriculum and instruction and will be working as an intern with Instructional Services Center this summer. She has been asked to be one of the point people for third through fifth grade math standards by delving into the standards to see what teachers need to know in order to be ready to teach the new standards. In doing this, she will be examining DPI resources and other available instructional materials that support the new standards.

“The state standards provide further clarity and specificity for teachers and parents to follow in a more organized format,” she said. “Despite minimal changes among grade level standards, there are not many huge revisions or additions of concepts across the standards. Students are still expected to learn mathematical concepts while building a strong foundation that goes beyond memorization. Lincoln County Schools’ instructional leaders are working to ensure that all educators are familiar with and have time to explore into the new standards before the start of the 2018/2019 school year.”

With this rapid transition into the new standards, Hager said that there will be some gaps in teaching K-8 math skills which will be an additional hurdle for the district for the 2019/2020 school year to make sure the gaps are closed.

Hager said the new math standards are based on an instruction framework, which is a philosophy of how children progress from kindergarten to eighth grade in math. They show the students’ progression of each through the “major clusters.” 

Martin said these instructional frameworks are research-based and determined age-appropriate content for students at each grade level. The math standards encourage students to explore various problem-solving methods while working to determine an answer. Students need to explain the thought-process and reasoning behind the method of choice.

“It’s interconnected,” Hager said. “It’s thinking about process just as much as what the answer is. Math is right or wrong when it comes to the answer but it’s all about the process when you get it. Many times there’s more than one way to get to it. People call that ‘new math’ but it’s really just looking at all the different problem solving options.”

The traditional school thought of “it’s my way, highway, let’s do it this way” is being set aside for these new standards because the process is very important to getting the right answer, according to Hager. Over the past three years, LCS has trained all K-8 teachers in math foundations which supports the instruction framework. It’s more about a development approach of teaching things as children are ready and building on them and it’s tightened up the curriculum.

“The benefit of this is that you have a brain that’s connected,” she said. “The information is not separated by teaching geometry in this grade, algebra in this grade, we’re going to teach them all in clusters and just teach that piece that you need to know in each grade to support the next grade.”

These new math standards are intended to teach students 21stcentury skills of problem solving and reasoning instead of what’s the only answer. As well as being able to speak intelligently about their understanding of the skills.  

Back when Hager was a high school principal in 2000, only one math – Algebra I (which is a ninth grade math) was required to graduate. Today, students have to take and pass four different math classes – Math I through III plus an additional math course. 

The curriculum for English Language Arts will be more focused on grammar, writing and more specificity in those areas. 

“We’re going to take a writing focus next year in elementary school and build upon that,” Hager said. “In thinking about that we’ll be exposing how the standards have changed.”

Ultimately these curriculum changes will make school more challenging for students.

“In thinking about college and career ready, we don’t know what tomorrow’s jobs are going to look like so we need to be preparing our students in the best way that we can to be problem solvers and collaborators in some of the soft skills as well as some of those really rich in content,” Hager said. “Truthfully everybody needs to know how to read and write and speak intelligently. That’s what this is all about.”

The DPI has released information on these new standards and can be find by search in the web for “DPI wikispaces” and “math” or “language arts.” 

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