By KAITLYN NAPLES
In 2010, the state’s government adopted the Common Core State Standards and the Smarter Balanced Assessment System (SBAC) that comes along with it, requiring all towns in Connecticut to implement the standards into their curriculums.
Bristol did just that and took the framework of the standards to re-write its mathematics and language arts curriculum so that it follows the standards that are mandated.
In early March, the district will be administering a practice SBAC test for students in grades three through eight, and grade 11 to prepare for the real one next year. The practice, or field test, will help prepare students and staff, as well as give an assessment on how the standards are working in the curriculum so far.
“Students have already been learning Common Core,” said Susan Moreau, deputy superintendent of schools, at an information session for parents last week. She said the standards started being implemented into the district’s curriculum in 2011, so it isn’t just being dropped in the students’ laps right now.
The information session was attended by a handful of parents last Wednesday, and there is another opportunity for parents to attend a second information session on Tuesday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Bristol Eastern High School. Parents will learn about Common Core, where it came from, what changes have been made and also learn about the SBAC testing, which will be replacing the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).
Common Core State Standards was formed in 2009 and was developed by a group of educators. The standards cover language arts and mathematics right now, and Superintendent of Schools Ellen Solek said the goal was to make sure all students across the country were receiving the same “high quality level” of educational instruction. Right now 45 out of the 50 states have adopted Common Core State Standards. To prepare for this, Solek said Bristol educators re-wrote the math and language arts, or English, curriculum, which has become more rigorous as a result of the standards. Teachers also had to go through training to become more familiar with the standards so that they can implement them into their lessons. Another component of the standards was bringing in more, up-to-date technology access, which Bristol has done over the last few years, especially because the SBAC test will be administered electronically.
Pam Brisson, of the district’s Office of Teaching and Learning, said Common Core State Standards require more literacy to be implemented in all subjects, including music and art. She said standards in schools and testing, however, is not new and Connecticut has had standards for the last 20 years.
“They are just raising the rigor,” Brisson told parents last week.
The goal of Common Core, Brisson said, is to “level the playing field” for all students in the country and prepare them for college or career training and the workforce. Regardless of a child’s zip code, ethnicity, economic standing, all students will be held to the same standards and learn the same material.
“Common Core gives educators a clear, consistent focus (on teaching),” Brisson said, adding this is something that has been missing in this country.
She said students will need to make more sense out of text and there will be more non-fiction read in classes. However, she said, fictional classic stories will not be completely lost.
“There will be more balance between fiction and non-fiction,” she said, adding there will be more informational reading, focus on using evidence, and an increase in academic vocabulary.
Due to the new standards comes a new assessment, the SBAC. The testing will measure how the standards are working among students so it can evaluate the lessons that are being delivered. SBAC tests will be administered in a similar way as the CMTs or CAPTs, and there will be accommodations for students with special needs. There will be fewer questions on the tests, However, the questions will be more in depth and have more components. For example, a student in third grade would have read a story with 443 words during the CMTs and had to answer questions about that story. With Smarter Balanced (SBAC), the same student will read one poem with 167 words, and one informational article with 204 words and answer questions connecting both of those texts.
SBAC, Brisson said, will “help to keep us on track to see if we’re meeting Common Core standards” and will provide results in a more timely fashion. Eventually, she said, there will be a shift in standards in sciences and there will be an assessment to follow as well. For now, students will still be taking the science CMTs in grades five and eight, and the science CAPT in grade 10.
Solek said the Bristol district wants to be sure that every student has “equal access” to learning and that students are prepared for college or a career when they leave high school.
While parents have the option to opt their children out of the practice test this year, school officials advised it would not prove to be productive, as the practice test will prepare students and educators for the real test next year.
“We are charged by law to administer this test and implement Common Core,” Solek said to parents. “We believe a well-rounded, rigorous curriculum is needed,” she said, adding educators have been working diligently to make sure the rollout of the curriculum and testing goes smoothly.
Parents can find more information about Common Core and SBAC on the district’s website www.bristol.k12.ct.us as well as www.commoncoreworks.org.
The next information session will be held on Tuesday, March 11 at 6:30 p.m. at Bristol Eastern High School, 632 King St., Bristol.