Germantown sets higher standards than Common Core

Challenges exist in customizing teaching to students' needs

Feb. 11, 2014

The Germantown School Board on Monday voted unanimously to establish an ad-hoc committee to facilitate adding needed educational requirements and assessments to Common Core Standards.

The new committee will assist the administration, faculty, parents and community members to develop the district's own, more personalized instructional practices and assessments using the Common Core Standards as a guide.

Germantown desires to "raise the bar" because Common Core Standards as defined by the Department of Education are not high enough or broad enough for students in the district.

"Germantown can be a role model for modern educational services delivery as compared to a factory model approach," Superintendent Jeff Holmes said. "Educating for and with you, not to you," is how he describes his reasoning in making the shift away from the federal Common Core Standards.

The committee would consist of three School Board members, parents, community members and local business leaders, who will rotate in and out throughout the five to seven year development process.

"We (the School District) want this to be a transparent effort to start a conversation with parents and the community to communicate what's best for children's education," Holmes said. "We want to take time to find pockets of innovation...starting with small-scale change at first."

Common Core Standards in English language arts, in reading and in mathematics provide consistent and clear universal guidelines and expectations about what students should learn.

"These standards will help teachers, students and parents know what is needed for students to succeed in college and careers, and will enable states, school districts and teachers to more effectively collaborate to accelerate learning and close achievement gaps nationwide," a Department of Education 2010 news release said.

Teachers then translate the standards into personalized lessons so that students can master the required skills.

Students assessed three times

In Germantown, assessments are given to students three times a year in grades three through nine. Select first-graders and second-graders may take a Mastering for Academic Progress assessment as one mode to determine if an accelerated intervention is needed.

Currently, the district utilizes MAP tests, which are computerized adaptive assessments. This adaptive test adjusts for correct or incorrect answers for each student. MAP is supposed to provide educators and parents detailed information about what the children know or what they are ready to learn.

"It measures what kind of teaching is happening in the classroom," Director of Teaching and Learning Brenda O'Brien said at the Jan. 27 Finance Committee meeting. "We know where they (students) are relative to benchmarks....It (MAP) tells us if an intervention would be needed."

MAP testing comes at a price: a one-year license costs about $28,000 and it takes three hours of instructional time out of the school day to administer.

Board member Bruce Warnimont said at the Jan. 27 Finance Committee meeting that he remains skeptical that MAP is helpful to parents. He said MAP assessments cannot give out the exact questions students missed. The test only provides sample questions that match the type the student got wrong.

Common Core has limitations

District officials said Common Core Standards have limitations. It is highly content-focused, and Holmes said it does not adequately address students mastering skills such as innovation, perseverance, critical thinking and problem solving.

"When students exit the district, they should be highly capable learners," Holmes said. "Our world continues to evolve at a faster pace than ever before....(We want) to facilitate a child's ability to be a great learner."

Switching gears to a hybrid instructional model can also have some downsides. There may be higher start-up costs, which the School District hopes would become cost-neutral during the operation phase.

Holmes said difficulties lie in instituting a change from the "one-size-fits-all" teaching approach of the past and it would create new standards for personalized instruction across all curriculum, not just reading, language arts and math, demands a mind-shift change.

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