On Tuesday, Oct. 29, nearly 100 BH-BL parents, residents, staff and Board of Education members gathered in the O'Rourke Middle School library to participate in a discussion about the new Common Core Learning Standards and obtain a clearer understanding of what the standards mean in terms of instruction and what parents can do at home to assist their children.
Superintendent Patrick McGrath opened the evening by thanking everyone who submitted questions via the website, because they had helped him and his co-presenters focus their slides on responding to the concerns and questions parents have about the Common Core Learning Standards.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Assistant Superintendent Maryellen Symer, K-12 English Language Arts Director Kate Gurley, and K-12 Mathematics and Science Director Bill McQuay took turns explaining in detail what the standard shifts mean at various grade levels and how the new standards are requiring kids not just to get the right answers but to apply various strategies and skills they learn in class to get the right answers. For instance, the goal is for students not to merely memorize steps in how to answer a certain type of math problem, but to develop a deeper level of understanding and to master the mathematical concept behind the problem. Students can then build upon this deeper mastery as they grow from grade to grade and beyond. [VIEW PRESENTATION]
Symer held up copies of several state standards documents from 1996 to explain that NY schools have worked within the context of evolving state standards for many years.
"For many years we've used New York State standards as a guide to develop our curriculum and teaching strategies," said Symer. "The new Common Core standards are now just more focused on preparing our students for success in college and career. They set clearer, more consistent and higher learning goals. That's something that we've always valued at BH-BL, and we will use the new Common Core standards as a guide while maintaining control of our curriculum and continuing to provide our students with a stellar education."
McGrath explained that while he and other BH-BL administrators are not in agreement with every part of Common Core, espcially how it was rolled out, they do see value in shifting the standards to reflect a higher level of learning and a deeper understanding of academic subjects. He encourged parents to keep the difference between standards and curriculum in mind and to visit www.engageny.org and familiarize themselves with the Common Core standards, which is what the BH-BL curriculum is based on.
"The state Common Core standards documents might seem daunting because we base 12 years of education on them, but when looking at them you'll see that they don't tell us HOW to teach. They tell us what skills our students need to master, but we have a lot of flexibility in how we reach the standards. The 'how' happens here at BH-BL. We aren't going to use the example curriculum modules the state is also offering if we don't like them, just as we aren't going to buy certain textbooks if we don't like them. It's our choice, as it has been for years, and we will continue to work hard with our administrators and teachers to create curriculum that is engaging, challenging and exciting for our students."
There are many other topics connected to the Common Core that require further explanation--for districts and parents alike. McGrath told those attending the Oct. 29 forum that he would collect and share their questions and concerns with State Education Commissioner John King.
Last Friday, Symer and members of the BH-BL school board were present when King promised those atttending the NY State School Boards Association's annual convention in Rochester that he would consider feedback on the Common Core and make modifications where appropriate. McGrath is currently drafting a letter to King, which will be posted here on Monday, Nov. 4. (See below.)