Farmington Valley school districts have always been ahead of the curve, far exceeding state averages on test scores and designing curriculum to push students toward success. But in 2014, local districts will face a new set of state standards, which local administrators are admitting will cover new territory.
Indeed, the Connecticut State Department of Education says that 20 percent of Common Core State Standards for English will be new to Connecticut, that is, not included in Connecticut’s existing standards. Another 12 percent are only generally related, with major concepts in the Common Core not addressed.
In math, the state sees a slightly better scenario, with 68 percent of Connecticut’s math standards matching well with the new Common Core. Twelve percent of the standards match weakly and 20 percent are new.
And in some cases, the information is being taught, but not at the same grade level, Canton Assistant Superintendent Jordan Grossman said.
“There are some aspects that are nothing new and there are definitely aspects that are very new,” Grossman said. “Some of our curriculum we’re finding we may have taught in sixth grade, now will be at fifth. We’re now unwrapping those standards – it’s really an awesome task.”
While some of the material is the same, what students are being asked to do and know is somewhat different.
To replace the CMTs, the Common Core will be measured with Smarter Balanced Assessments, a test that is still being designed and will be taken mainly on a computer. The test is adaptive, meaning it will adjust to the student, tailoring questions to the student’s ability level.
“A student starts with one question, they can get it correct, get it with a hint or be incorrect. If you succeed, you move up and get more challenging questions with a higher score. If you do not do well and need lots of hints, students still wouldn’t be very frustrated. They wouldn’t continue with the test if they clearly weren’t doing well,” explained Veronica Ruzek, Farmington Director of Curriculum & Instruction.
In addition to the online portion, the new assessment will have a performance portion, which asks students to respond to some kind of stimulus, like reading, video clip or a problem, then do research and present their response, either in writing or speaking.
The State Department of Education acknowledges that new assessments will require analysis and summary, while current tests do not, and students will be asked to provide more evidence and support their answers in new ways.
West Hartford, like Canton, began working to revise its curriculum in 2011, just after Connecticut adopted the Common Core in July 2009. Many districts are using professional development time to work on revisions and to prepare teachers.
Canton has an advantage, Grossman said, because of a longstanding partnership with Columbia University's Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Through the affiliation, Canton has patterned its reading and writing curriculum to match that of the project, which already aligns to the Common Core, Grossman said.
Though it’s a large task, officials throughout the Farmington Valley are calling the change a great opportunity for students and districts.
"What the standards are giving us the opportunity to do is take some things away, weed out the curriculum, and work for rigorous, in-depth understanding,” Dr. Karen List, West Hartford superintendent said at the beginning of the year.
"We realize the work can’t be done overnight. It's going to take some time," Grossman said. "But the principals and teachers are doing an awesome job."