Columbia Public Schools Implement New Curriculum

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COLUMBIA - New academic standards will change the way educators teach and test children across state border lines. Columbia Public Schools are starting to implement new teaching objectives as they begin to adopt academic goals highlighted in the Common Core Standards or CCS.

The standards are broadly stated educational goals that seek to achieve equal levels of learning in classrooms across the nation. The CCS suggests a set of skills that students grades K-12, should be able to reach in math and English language arts. The standards are designed to enhance critical thinking and students' ability to apply the skills they've learned.

Educators have built the standards in hopes of better preparing students for college and career work expectations. One objective of the new curriculum is to elevate the level of thinking by using two references to teach a lesson, such as incorporating both books and movies as teaching methods.

The federally funded program provides a base for state officials and school districts to build their curriculums and learning objectives from. Local boards of education then alter the academic goals outlined by the CCS to meet local needs.

Curriculum is a local decision in the state of Missouri. Though the state adopted the Common Core Standards in 2010, the Columbia Board of Education approved a new local curriculum in 2012. Columbia Public Schools have begun shifting their curriculums to meet the new national academic goals before the standards are officially implemented next fall.

The standards also require students to take the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium online test, which will replace the Missouri Assessment Program or MAP test. The new assessment test will launch in spring 2015.

Columbia Public Schools Chief Academic Officer, Dr. Sally Beth Lyon, has played an integral role in coordinating the implementation of the standards. Lyon heads the Columbia Department of Curriculum and Instruction for Columbia Public Schools. She said Columbia Public School officials have been rewriting curriculum, providing model lessons and developing local assessments to teach new learning objectives and to ensure a smooth transition for students.

Lyon said they want to put more work in terms of thinking in front of the child. "Students can rise to any level of expectation if we teach them well and if we are clear about what we expect," Lyon said.

Test scores are expected to decrease once the Common Core standards have been initially implemented. Lyon said the implementation of the standards is a process.

"We're moving the goal post and we need now to up our game and that's something that the community should really be prepared for," she said.

Some critics of the CSS fear the new standards remove local control of classroom curriculum. Lyon said the standards create cross-state collaboration but doesn't create a national curriculum.

"I think they'll help in keeping the expectations at least, not the specific curriculum, but standards across states," she said.

Lyon said the Columbia Public Schools seeks to give children equal opportunities despite their circumstances.

"Traditionally our under-served students aren't enrolled in honors and AP courses in the same rates as other students, we need to fix that," she said.

Lyon also said Missouri is in good shape for the transition to the CCS. Average district ACT scores greatly surpass the state and national average scores.

Rock Bridge Elementary School parent, Loretta Schouten supports the nationalizing of the standards because she believes it raises the standards. She also said it's important to ensure that the standards are reaching all the students.

"I think making sure that ...we're still making those kids hit those levels but doing it in a way that we capture all of the kids and that's hard to do," she said.

Schouten also said the Common Core Standard's aren't perfect but sees room for progression.

"I know they're writing rules and regulations right now to help clarify what those standards are, but it's a great start and we've got to start somewhere."

She also said the success of the program will be a process.

"Teaching them the value of math and science and technology and engineering and reading and writing I think is really important and I think common core is a great start for that," said Schouten.

She says getting the word out to educate parents will influence the process of the curriculum changes and how they get implemented.

"The more folks we have in that dialogue and the more voices we have and the more brainstorms we have the more success we'll be and the smoother the process will be," she said.

Forty-five states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories have adopted the CCS. The standards will fully go into affect during the 2014-2015 school year.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education outlines how the Common Core Standards will affect Missouri schools.