Arkansas schools’ shift to new Common core standards begins this year
Arkansas students will soon begin a move to a new school curriculum that administrators say is simpler and more effective.
The state has adopted Common Core standards designed by school administrators nationwide in an attempt to bring every state up to the same level of education benchmarks. More than 20 states have adopted the standards so far.
When school starts later this month, more than 100,000 students in kindergarten, first and second grade will be taught English, language arts and math using standards that are heavily focused on skills needed for future careers and college work. Students in third through eighth grade will move to Common Core in the next school year, and high school students will move in 2013-14.
By 2014-15, all public school students will take new tests under the standards. Education officials plan to work with several Arkansas universities to develop the tests, which could eventually be used in the college application process.
In a meeting with reporters Friday, Arkansas Education Commissioner Tom Kimbrell and other officials said the state’s old curriculum has more required standards — things students must learn in a given school year — than any other state in the country.
“With the vast amount of standards that we currently have, what’s happened, unfortunately, is that teachers are so focused on covering checklists, if you will,” Assistant Education Commissioner Laura Bednar said. “They really haven’t had time to go to that deep level of rigor that’s necessary even before we had the move over to common core state standards.”
Under Common Core, third-graders should understand subject-verb agreement, fifth-graders need to know about metaphors and similes and seventh-graders must understand how to calculate surface area.
States that sign up are supposed to use the standards as a base on which to build their curricula and testing, but they can make their benchmarks tougher than Common Core. Only two states, Alaska and Texas, did not sign onto the original idea for the standards.
Asked what would be cut under Common Core, Kimbrell joked that there might be less time in kindergarten for dinosaurs or Johnny Appleseed. But Kimbrell and others said they had heard from employers who want more rigor and more preparation for future recruits.
“We have to get rid of some of these standards that may not lead to college and career success,” Kimbrell said. “And identifying those things is the important piece.”
Students will take a battery of tests starting in the 2014-15 school year, with exams at the beginning, middle and end of the year. Kimbrell defended the increased testing, saying it will help teachers find out if students need more help during the year rather than at the end.
“That’s a model that we’ve used for 30 years that’s ineffective,” Kimbrell said.
School districts will see some costs due to Common Core, primarily in training time for teachers and new technology. The state will pay for the new tests, and outside grants will also cover some costs, Kimbrell said.