Local students will be learning things a bit differently next year.
Starting this fall, Georgia will join 44 other states, along with the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, in implementing Common Core standards.
Common Core is basically a detailed outline of what students should learn at each grade level. It replaces the Georgia Performance Standards and will allow Georgia to better compare its students to those in other states.
It means a few changes, though, mostly in math and language arts.
Before adopting the Common Core standards, Georgia utilized the Georgia Performance Standards. That standard will be blended with Common Core, under what the state calls Common Core Georgia Performance Standards.
High school math students will now start with algebra, move to geometry, then take advanced algebra and finish with pre-calculus, said April Howard, school improvement specialist for Hall County Schools. There are accelerated routes for more advanced students, including Advanced Placement classes.
Curriculum for kindergarten through eighth-grade math classes will still resemble that of the GPS.
One of the biggest differences will be in language arts. A bigger emphasis will be placed on analytical thinking and reading, not just retaining information for a test.
“In order to get students prepared for the literacy they need to have on the college level and beyond, to interpret all of the media that is out there today, we need to get them to experience more of that in high school,” said Karen Weathers, East Hall High School English department chairwoman.
Science and social studies will remain under the guidance of the GPS, but Common Core standards will be blended in, putting more focus on literacy skills within those subject areas.
It again emphasizes a move away from students repeating information they learn.
“I think there is a greater focus on not just being able to read and comprehend, but how you use that information,” Howard said. “How are you going to apply it and how it’s going to work in the real world. There is a significant focus on relevance and making it connected to something kids can really do with it.”
The greater emphasis on literacy is where the biggest change is, Weathers said.
“The push is to get more reading across the curriculums so students don’t see it in an isolated case,” she said. “We’re not just teaching our subjects in isolation. We’re trying to show students how science relates to mathematics, which relates to health, so students don’t think they’re just learning something while sitting in math class and forget it while walking to psychology class.”
It’s a change for students, but it’s a big change for teachers as well.
Weathers said over the summer she will work with science teachers to help them develop plans to introduce more literacy in their classrooms. It’s something those science teachers may not be used to. The English teacher said it would be like asking her to teach calculus.
“That’s what our goal is this summer, to ease some of the anxiety teachers may be feeling,” she said. “I think when you change something, there is a learning curve, not only for the students, but for the teachers as well.”
The change in standards means heightened expectations for students.
“From a language arts and literacy perspective, I’m not sure we’ve expected this much,” Howard said. “I think it’s a fantastic goal. It’s where we need to go with kids. But we have some scaffolding and some work we have to do to prepare kids to perform at that level.”
Students will have “transition standards” while the implementation occurs, with teachers modeling what is expected of them and teaching units that bridge the two standards.
“We will not expect (students), out of the gate, to be given an assignment on an independent level,” Howard said. “That’s not what they’ve been doing, and we can’t expect that right out of the gate.”
Weathers said when the state first switched to the Georgia Performance Standards that presented challenges as well.
“People are excited bout the changes, I think,” she said. “Because what we’ve been doing hasn’t necessarily helped.”