Change has been the buzzword for Suffield’s public schools during the past 18 months, with the addition of several new teachers, new administrators, a new superintendent and new faces to the Board of Education. Well, at least things in the classroom never change, right? Wrong!
Suffield’s new blood is hard at working retooling the public school system to fall in line with Connecticut’s mandated educational reform. During the Suffield Board of Education meeting held on Dec. 6, Superintendent Karen Baldwin and high school principal Donna Hayward presented a “30,000-foot view” of Suffield’s education reform to meet the new rules set forth for Connecticut communities. Yet both educators realize there is a lot to do to meet these sweeping reforms and questions loom as to how it is all going to be funded.
In July 2010, the state’s Board of Education adopted new national academic standards, known as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts and mathematics. The new standards establish what Connecticut’s public school students should know and be able to do as they progress from kindergarten through 12th grade. The purpose is to meet national standards and guidelines designed to make students more competitive in a global environment. Planning for the standards included college-bound as well as career-bound students.
The change in standards also means change in graduation requirements, which will first affect the class of 2018 – current sixth-grade students. Current eighth graders will experience changes in the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT).
The CCSS were designed to consist of fewer, clearer and higher-level standards; to be aligned with college and work expectations; to include rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills; to build upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards; to be internationally benchmarked so that all students will be prepared to succeed in the global economy; and to be based on evidence and research.
The English language arts standards require students to develop literacy skills and comprehension through reading, writing, speaking and listening. There is also a set of standards for English language arts in the content areas for students in grade six through grade 12. The mathematics standards are designed to focus on developing students’ understanding of mathematical concepts and acquisition of fundamental reasoning habits, in addition to fluency skills.
The newly adopted national standards will provide guidance to local curriculum committees as they develop grade-by-grade and course level expectations and as they engage in secondary school reform as required.
“These standards are internationally benchmarked and are designed to help prepare students to live and succeed in a global society,” Baldwin said.
Suffield is well on target to hit the state goals. In May 2011, a committee was formed and set the new graduation requirements of 25 credits to complete high school. The credits added are a full credit each in math and world language, a half-credit each of personal finance and fine arts. Also, the physical education requirement was reduced by a half-credit to a total of one full credit. This was phase one, Baldwin reported.
In phase two, earmarked for the class of 2018, another world language credit will be added as will a half-credit to fine arts. There will also be an adjustment to elective credits as well as a full credit for a Capstone program. The Capstone experience is an activity that allows students to focus on an area of interest and combine that with classroom and real world experiences. This senior project will earn a student one credit and deliver valuable practical knowledge that can be put into practice after graduation, noted Baldwin.
In addition, student assessment programs and needs profiles will be altered over the coming years to better determine each students “success plan.” This plan will be seamless, carrying between grades and schools to allow educators to cooperate on a student’s educational progress. The hope is that every child will get the best education possible for them within the system.
The people most affected by these state mandated reforms will be the teachers and administrators. Baldwin, Haywood and others have spent countless hours gathering information from the state about how to meet these standards and to learn what changes in educational methodology will be required. As they put together a plan, teachers will actually be going back to school themselves to learn how to meet these standards and how to maximize the students’ learning time.
“The focus will be on depth over breadth,” Haywood said. “English, for example, will not be taught in a vacuum. Fluency is an understanding across all areas and will be incorporated throughout each subject…so students understand the concepts. Math too will be different and there will be changes in how problems are presented.”
Suffield is taking its first steps to meet the new standards but there is a lot of work to be done. As Superintendent Baldwin noted, “This is an exciting time to be in education.”
For residents of Suffield, exciting may not be the word they associate with these mandated changes, which more likely than not will be expensive. Increased technology needs, textbook changes and other necessities will add bulk to the school budget, although no one could project any specific figures this far in advance. For students, these new reforms are neither optional nor avoidable. For taxpayers, there are many questions remaining as to how to meet these requirements in a cost-effective manner.