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Indiana lawmakers want more review time for CCSS


Teachers across Indiana have been preparing for the last two years to use a new set of classroom standards meant to help students better understand how what they learn in one subject applies to another.

In seventh-grade math, for example, teachers would spend more time on concepts such as rational numbers to be sure all of their students understood what was being taught, and how they’ll use the lesson in high school classes, such as chemistry, Greenwood director of secondary education Rick
Ahlgrim said.

The new standards, called common core, don’t require students to master as many lessons as the old standards. Instead they are designed so students are taught both the lesson and how it applies to different subjects and careers.

But lawmakers are concerned common core won’t give students a deeper understanding of what they’re being taught, and want more time to review the new standards before they would be implemented in all schools.

State Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, proposed a bill earlier this month that would stop schools from using the new way of teaching. Today, State Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, chairman of the senate education committee, plans to propose an amendment to the bill, calling for the state to spend the rest of the year reviewing the effectiveness and cost of the new standards and to see if any changes are needed.

Schneider and Kruse said they’re worried that Indiana rushed to implement the new standards without consulting parents and teachers, that the cost of the standards isn’t known and that they aren’t as challenging as Indiana’s current standards. Schneider is also concerned the state would be unable to make changes to the standards in the future.

“We lose, really, our local voice and local input from parents and teachers and subject matter experts,” Schneider said.

Indiana adopted the new standards in 2010 and is one of 45 states that had been moving forward with common core.

The state’s kindergartners and first-graders have already started learning under the new standards, and nearly every kindergarten through 12th-grade language arts class is using a mix of the old standards and common core.

The new standards rely heavily on analytical reading and writing and demonstrating how one subject applies to another, and teachers have been working to redesign their lessons.

Social studies and science teachers, for example, are responsible not only for teaching their subjects’ content but also showing students how to analyze what they read and write stronger essays and arguments, Ahlgrim and Whiteland Community High School interim principal John Schilawski said.

Schools have been planning to switch to common core by the start of the 2014-15 school year, and adjusting or completely replacing the standards before then could be complicated, local school officials said.

Clark-Pleasant schools, for example, strives to have teachers at all grade levels work together so students are best prepared as they advance from one grade level to the next.

Changing or replacing common core now could make that difficult, director of elementary education Sue Whitney said.

“We’re going to do what we need to do, bottom line. It just makes it a little more difficult, a little more cumbersome when you continually change direction,” Whitney said.

Any new changes Indiana does implement would likely have to include some aspects of common core because standard exams, such as the ACT and SAT, are beginning to include the kind of in-depth analysis the standards teach, Schilawski said.

“Decisions need to be made, and in some cases we need to stay the course, because there are multiple factors that come into play,” Schilawski said.

Schilawski is also concerned that changing the standards will become confusing for students, who have been told since last school year the new standards are coming.

“That’s where these little changes can have an overall effect. If nothing else it can begin to confuse kids,” Schilawski said.

Schneider originally introduced a bill stopping the new standards last year.

He said he authored the bill after residents in his district contacted him with concerns they had over how their children’s classroom lessons were changing.

One parent was concerned that a student, who had always done well in math, was struggling with lessons based on common core.

Schneider is also concerned that English classes will have to stop using novels with students in favor of nonfiction texts in order to meet the new standards.

That’s not a requirement of the new standards, but English teachers may feel they need to make the change to meet requirements for teaching critical thinking, he said.

The goal to develop stronger critical thinking skills for students is noble, but the new standards may not be the best way to accomplish that, he said.

The proposal lawmakers are considering would give Indiana time to assess whether common core would require additional costs such as professional development for teachers.

Hearings could also be conducted across the state so that all of the potential benefits and drawbacks can be discussed by parents, teachers and lawmakers, Kruse and Schneider said.