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State board to vote today on new academic standards
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The state Board of Education decides this morning whether completely new classroom standards will roll out in fall 2011.

At the beginning of June, Gov. Sonny Perdue and national education leaders launched the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which establishes national standards in English, language arts and mathematics for grades kindergarten-12th.

Each state now has its own set of academic standards that can vary widely in how success is measured and in which grades certain concepts are taught. Although some educators oppose national standards created from a federal level, the Common Core pushes for the collaboration of states. Common standards would allow states to make apple-to-apple comparisons among schools and ease the transition for moving families as they transfer school credits.

“We’re certainly excited about it. It’s about recognizing that regardless of whether an 8-year-old lives in Gainesville or Cupertino, Calif., they’re learning the same thing,” Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield said. “Instead of 50 states redrafting their curriculum and spending billions on creating new tests, it saves a lot of time and utilizes resources more efficiently. It’s a real opportunity for world-class standards regardless of geography.”

Though state school board members vote on the standards today, changes won’t enter classrooms until next fall. The new standards shouldn’t dramatically change what’s in place in Georgia because the current Georgia Performance Standards were based on practices in other states, Martha Reichrath, deputy state superintendent for standards, instruction and assessment, told concerned teachers when the initiative started in June.

“From both the business perspective and military families, this is the right thing to do. Families who move across the country deserve some satisfaction that the curriculum will be similar state to state,” said Steve Dolinger, director of the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, a nonpartisan group that helps educators across Georgia.

“A group of states came together with the governor to look at the best practices nationally and internationally,” he said. “The Common Core explains what is to be taught at different grade levels, but not how, which allows teachers to still be creative.”

The state Department of Education has started creating a “crosswalk” between the current standards and Common Core to note the differences. When curriculum is introduced next fall, the state wants to gradually infuse changes so teachers won’t be heavily burdened.

“I’m curious as to the implementation phase,” Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said. “At this time, some of the standards don’t match the tests. ... Teachers will welcome the shift with an emphasis on deeper learning, but we want to be sure the test will align because test scores are such high stakes.”

Some Gainesville teachers have noted a few differences already and alerted Dyer. The state has acknowledged that kindergarten through third-grade language arts will shift several lessons, and some current fifth-grade math standards will now move to sixth grade.

What’s left to consider? The pocketbook.

“There is a need to make sure schools maintain funding for teacher professional development,” Dolinger said. “The governor added some funding, but I’m afraid the schools will say it’s not enough. All of this communication about the standards and implementation will have some kind of price tag.”

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