Indiana schools set to chomp new Core lessons
By Carole Carlson firstname.lastname@example.org/648-3154 December 8, 2012 7:22PM
Evan Bell uses a piece of red licorice to measure the perimeter around four cheese crackers in third-grade class at Washington Township Elementary School Friday Nov. 30, 2012. Ranger Scott, right, works on the same project. | Andy Lavalley~Sun-Times Media
Sample Items for Grade 3 “How Animals Live” by Lisa Oram
Sample Item 1: Questions and Standards Sample Item 1: Advances and Answers
Part A Question: What is one main idea of “How Animals Live?”
a. There are many types of animals on the planet
b. Animals need water to live.
c. There are many ways to sort different animals.*
d. Animals begin their life cycles in different forms.
Part A Item Advances: The first part of this Evidence-Based Selected-Response item resembles main idea questions that have traditionally appeared on reading assessments. However, it critically sets the stage for Part B, which is an advance on past testing practice. Part A calls on students to show their understanding of one of the key ideas of the passage, namely that animals can be classified by their traits. It meets Standard 2 by asking students to provide a statement of a main idea of the text.
Part A Answer Choice Rationales: Option A, although it is a general statement and might be inferred from the passage, is not one of the main ideas explored in the text. Options B and D each provides a detail from the passage rather than a main idea.
Part B Question: Which sentence from the article best supports the answer to Part A?
a. “Animals get oxygen from air or water.
b. “Animals can be grouped by their traits.”*
c. “Worms are invertebrates.”
d. “All animals grow and change over time.”
e. “Almost all animals need water, food, oxygen, and shelter to live.”
Part B Item Advances: Part B of this Evidence-Based Question takes the item in a new direction that calls for deeper insight. Students not only must determine a main idea (Part A) but also must provide evidence to establish the accuracy of their answer. Part B asks students to find a quotation from the text that supports their answer, illustrating one of the key shifts in CCSS assessment: use of textual evidence.
Part B Answer Choice Rationales: Option A simply identifies how animals access air, without a text-based relationship to classification. Option C provides a detail about the classification for only one animal. Option D is unrelated to the idea that animals can be grouped in many ways. Option E focuses on similarities among animals rather than classification based on differences.
Updated: January 10, 2013 6:13AM
Washington Township Elementary teacher Carla Miller passed out four Cheez-It squares to her third-graders recently and told them to make a shape. They wrote the area of the shape on a white dry-erase board and held it high for Miller to review.
Then she passed out Twizzlers and told students to peel them apart and wrap them around the Cheez-Its.
“Now, write the perimeter of your shape,” she instructed them.
The lesson didn’t focus on snack foods, but they played a role in helping students understand a math concept they will likely have to explain in detail as Indiana schools prepare for a new assessment exam slated to replace ISTEP-Plus in 2015.
The assessment is based on Common Core State Standards, an initiative Indiana adopted in 2010 that sets forth what students should know in reading and math by grade levels. So far, 46 states have voluntarily hopped on the bandwagon.
Indiana schools, like Washington Township in the East Porter County School Corp., are already integrating Common Core into their lessons.
While Miller’s exercise involving Cheez-Its and Twizzlers seems straightforward, the prospect of Common Core has stirred controversy and unexpected political alliances as fears grow in conservative circles of a dreaded national curriculum.
Democrats and conservative GOP voters are rarely linked, but Indiana GOP school chief Tony Bennett suspects some Republicans cast ballots for victorious Democrat Glenda Ritz because of her opposition to Common Core standards.
Last month, Ritz handed Bennett a stunning election-night defeat. As the lone Democrat to win a state office, Ritz chalked up more votes than GOP Gov.-elect Mike Pence.
In 2009, Common Core standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Chief Council of State School Officers, where Bennett serves as one of six directors.
Bennett also is part of Chiefs for Change, a group of conservative state officials who back education reforms, like Common Core.
Now, the journey Bennett charted to Common Core may have a few hiccups.
Ritz has said the Common Core standards need to be reviewed, dismissing them as pass-fail assessments offering little insight to teachers to help struggling students. Kicked to the curb are Indiana’s nationally acclaimed state standards that Hoosier educators developed.
In part, Bennett blamed his defeat on defecting GOP voters who disliked Common Core, labeling it a federal intrusion into state business. Last year, a state lawmaker tried to overturn Indiana’s commitment to Common Core, but the bid failed.
Stoking the conservative fires, President Barack Obama has tied federal grants to the Common Core standards, leaving states that haven’t adopted them — Alaska, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia — presumably out of the running for federal money.
On the front lines
Educators can see a rationale to Common Core, given the mobility of U.S. students. For example, if one of Miller’s third-graders moved to California, the curriculum there would focus on the same critical skills in math and English.
Miller, who’s been teaching since 1978, said her Singapore math lessons are a departure from the past. While it relies on manipulatives like the Twizzlers, it leads students to solve more complex questions. “It teaches them to pull a problem apart and attack it. They understand the problem and can apply it.”
Miller said students who used to struggle with problem-solving are grasping the concept. “It’s not just a bunch of words, it’s a procedure. Success feels good. Most of them will say math is their favorite subject.”
In an English lesson, students write a letter to Santa listing their Christmas wishes, but they have to write in complete sentences and persuade Santa by justifying what they need with facts and opinions.
Bobbi Hall, a fourth-grade teacher at Jackson Elementary in the Duneland School Corp., said the Common Core standards are rigorous but not as detailed as the Indiana standards.
For now, Hall said teachers are juggling curriculums between Common Core and Indiana standards. While Common Core is being phased in and new texts are Common Core-based, students are still tested under ISTEP, where content is based on Indiana standards. So teachers are going back and forth. “Now, we’re doing both. For a teacher sometimes it’s a nightmare.”
Hall has been teaching for 24 years, so she’s seen her share of education reforms.
“There’s a part of me that says I understand, but there is something to having your own local control. ... I think teachers in the state of Indiana are very flexible and used to things changing.”
Washington Township Principal Rik Ihssen doesn’t see too many drawbacks to Common Core.
“It shouldn’t ruffle too many feathers, although the transition itself will be a little difficult. What you used to teach in first grade, will now be taught in kindergarten in math.”
English will be tougher, Ihssen said. “Now, it’s a literal comprehension. You read a story and answer questions.
It will soon be more inferential. For example, Ihssen said, students will have to explain why a character did something and come up with two facts from the story to substantiate their answer.
Merrillville Community School Corp. Superintendent Tony Lux said Common Core places greater emphasis on reading and writing.
“It’s obviously an increase in the standard expectation for a student’s achievement. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
What Lux has a problem with are raised expectations, without increased funding.
“Right now, there’s a total lack of recognition of what’s to be done to raise kids to the next level. The expectation is to get kids to perform, but don’t expect any more help.”