Over the next several weeks, Indiana education officials will be considering new, draft standards of their own to replace the Common Core State Standards. These draft standards in English/language arts and math represent an amalgam of the common core and Indiana’s previous content standards. They’re not necessarily a radical departure from the common core, a prospect that has upset some K-12 activists opposed to the common standards.
But what if Indiana teachers are already using both the common core and the state’s previous standards in their classrooms? What does that look like?
On a visit to Crooked Creek Elementary School in Indianapolis, where state Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz used to be a media specialist, I went to the classroom of 5th grade teacher Flora Gitsis. She was instructing her class on writing an essay about their experiences with empathy, joined by student-teacher John Blum.
On a projector screen at the front of the room, Blum displayed a set of the 2006 Indiana State Standards to instruct students about the proper structure of an essay. Then the screen changed to show essay-writing for 5th graders as it’s addressed in the common core.
What’s the main difference between the Indiana standard and the common core on this topic? The latter puts an emphasis on the names of the concepts that are the foundation of the students’ essay, like the thesis, a conclusion, and supporting evidence. Those terms are used and explained when the common-core standard is shown on the projector screen.
Gitsis told me the common core allows her to explore the topics of her lessons in more depth, building on what she called the more “cut-and-dried” Indiana standards used before common core.
Explaining to students that what they write about can be from their own lives, people they know, or make-believe, Gitsis told them, “You have a scope of ideas.”
As Crooked Creek Principal Kimberly Piper explains, one of the biggest effects of the common core has been to increase students’ exposure to and understanding of this academic vocabulary. “I guarantee you that before common core, ‘thesis’ wouldn’t have been a part of that lesson,” Piper said.
The common core is now fully implemented in kindergarten and 1st grade at Crooked Creek, while teachers are transitioning from the state’s prior standards to the common core in grades 2-5. (The state’s so-called common-core “pause” legislation, passed last year, has not affected this transition.)
Piper said it has been difficult to be “in flux” between standards, and that, “Essentially, all of our teachers have been doing both. They’ve been doing a merge.”
At the same time, though, teachers at the school gave me the impression that their classroom work hasn’t been dramatically affected by the transition and the generally uncertain status of the common core in Indiana. They told me that the key skills they must teach have remained constant over the last few years, regardless of the standards they’re given.
“We just want something that is clean and clear and concise,” said Susan Cosand, a math specialist at Crooked Creek.
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.