The Orondo School District in Douglas County is one of 50 leading districts in Washington that are implementing new common core state standards for reading and mathematics literacy. Eastmont and Grand Coulee Dam are the other two leading districts in Douglas County.
According to Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) website, “these K-12 learning standards go deeper into key concepts in math and English language arts. The standards require a practical, real-life application of knowledge that prepares Washington students for success in college, work and life.”
Forty-five states are in the process of adopting them. OSPI rolled out the standards through selected school districts in 2012-13. Full implementation with a new assessment system is scheduled for 2014-15.
The core standards provide each grade with a range of literacy standards in English language arts and mathematics that focus on the ability to understand how to use the skills to problem solve.
Seeking a hands-on perspective I contacted Millie Watkins, the superintendent and school principal for Orondo’s approximately 180 students, shone above with Mrs. Alicia Lopez, the school’s leading common core teacher.
“We’ve had tremendous support from the region, staff and District Board,” she said.
Watkins’ experience makes her well qualified to lead. For ten years she taught elementary, middle and high school levels of English, Spanish and ESL. The next 14 years she was the director of migrant education in the North Central ESD until 2004, when she became Orondo’s superintendent.
Watkins recently updated her Board about the common core standards and why they challenge students to use literacy in practical ways.
For example, Orondo’s most basic reading level standard for 7th grade is “Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.”
Notice, this is not a requirement to read a certain curriculum, but a standard on how to understand what has been read by writing about it with guidelines. School districts and teachers can choose their curriculum.
“Reading and writing are a little more tied together,” she said. “Students are being asked to write more than, for example, what they did over Christmas break, and instead do a reading, reflect on it by writing and support their writing as argument,” she said.
“That integration of skills, in my opinion, makes the standards a more rigorous integration of skills than we’ve had,” she said. “If we are preparing students for careers and Higher Education, it helps to be able to put in references that give more detail and structure to writing.”
The core math standards are also shifting toward a deeper knowledge so that students understand what numbers are doing and how to use them to problem solve.
“Students should develop fluency not only with doing math problems, but telling how to do problems in reality every day,” she said.
She enjoyed watching an instructor teach problem solving after his students added up the total debt a man owed family and friends. The teacher then asked them to explain why the problem was an example of negative numbers. What was its practical value?
“The answer was much money did he owe?” Watkins said, “and also how much did he have, how much in the hole was he and how long would it take him to work out of it?”
For students heading into life after high school knowing much they owe compared to how they earn, or will earn, is a very practical problem solving skill.
She believes the core standards should strengthen the entire curricula and all the students. Teachers in other programs are being asked to apply that same rigor in their subjects for which they’re recommending curriculum.
“We’re still holding the kids accountable, still helping the kids who need special support and those who push beyond the standards,” she said.
“Hands down, I can tell you the kids are learning more than they used to,” she said.