‘You figure it out!': Frustrated dad writes check to son’s elementary school …

23 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘You figure it out!': Frustrated dad writes check to son’s elementary school using controversial Common Core.

Doug Hermann wrote the check to Melridge Elementary schools expressing the dollar amount in a string of Xs and Os with the message: “You figure it out.” Though Herrmann admits he never sent the check in, he does joke that the school should be perfectly capable of deciphering the correct amount, given its use of the Common Core. Howe Avenue Elementary School, the largest elementary school in the San Juan Unified School District, is in a threadbare neighborhood of strip malls, faded homes and aging apartments.OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma educators crowded into a state Capitol meeting room Tuesday to kick off a legislative study of educational practices that one lawmaker said could influence the course of public education in the state.

But frustrated parents around the country have complained about difficult system and say that education should focus on encouraging creative thinking as much as improving test scores. Although he clarified that the check was never sent to the school, Hermann was able to commiserate with fellow parents who may also struggle with Common Core practices across the country. School administrators from urban and rural districts spoke to the House Common Education Committee, which is tasked with looking at current public-school practices such as student achievement and success in the classroom.

So district officials said they weren’t surprised when they learned that only 7 percent of Howe Avenue students met statewide standards in math and only 9 percent in English in test results released this month. Common Core is a set of national benchmarks that expect students not only to calculate solutions but also explain how they arrived at the answer, with the aim of showing that there is more than one solution process for each problem. About 21 percent of economically disadvantaged students in California met state math standards under the new Smarter Balanced Assessment System, compared with 53 percent of all other students.

Oklahoma City Public Schools Superintendent Robert Neu says educators in his district — the state’s largest with 46,000 students — feel a moral imperative to lift the performance of struggling students. By comparison, under the previous testing system used in 2012, the percentage of students scoring “proficient” was about 1.5 times higher for wealthier students than for poor students. Supporters insist that the standards are needed to ensure some uniformity across the nation, but critics say testing for national standards indirectly dictates curriculum, which they say undermines local control of education. His staff has developed a multi-faceted approach to accomplishing the goal, including early student literacy, student engagement and mastery of core subjects, accelerated performance of underperforming students and high school graduation, Neu said. The new statewide exam is based on Common Core standards, a national set of guidelines intended to promote critical thinking, analytical writing and problem-solving skills.

Since the set of academic standards have been adopted by more than 40 states in the past few years, students, their parents, and even some teachers have taken issue with its complex phrasing, roundabout methods, and total rejection of memorized shortcuts or formulas. For instance, a three-digit multiplication could involve making illustrations, breaking apart numbers, multiplying, adding, and then a clear break-down each step. Stacey Jacobson-Francis, mother of a first grader in Berkeley, California, tells NBC Washington that her daughter’s homework requires her to know four different ways to add. “That is way too much to ask of a first grader,” she says. “She can’t remember them all, and I don’t know them all, so we just do the best that we can.” Still, supporters of the standards say students are now understanding math in an unprecedented way, some showing precocious conceptions of advanced formulas. In the Sacramento region, the top 50 performing schools on the math exam were largely concentrated in upper-middle-class suburbs such as Davis, Folsom, El Dorado Hills, Roseville and Rocklin, as well as a handful of wealthier neighborhoods in Sacramento and Elk Grove. The problem, she says, is the parents. “The toughest part is the homework part because parents, it’s so hard for them,” Palermo says. “A lot of parents, they doubt themselves because there are all these models and things they’ve never seen before.”

The results paint an accurate picture of the disparity between the college and career preparedness of low-income and minority students and the rest of the state’s students, said Ryan Smith, executive director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based nonprofit focused on improving low-income and minority student achievement. “This test is absolutely a call to action to have policymakers, civil rights leaders and educators working together to close the achievement gap,” he said. However, as is often the case, there was input from many other sources — including State Departments of Education — that had to be incorporated into the standards,” he said during the testimony. At Howe Avenue, administrators and teachers say housing and job insecurity have resulted in an unstable population, with students moving in and out of the school each day. Academic gaps can be even more pronounced because low-income students also generally have less access to extracurricular activities like travel, concerts and summer camps. Last school year, Common Core-aligned standardized tests marched forward, going from paper-and-pencil to the computer to allow for questions to adapt in difficulty based on a student’s answer.

Middle- and higher-income schools often face more pressure from parents and unions to improve test scores, said David Plank of Policy Analysis for California Education, an independent research center based at Stanford. “In middle-class districts, the parents aren’t going to put up with low scores,” he said. “The pressure is less, certainly, in districts with poor families.” Schools in low-income neighborhoods were more likely to take a teach-to-the-test strategy to avoid sanctions under No Child Left Behind, which relied on test scores to measure performance, Darling-Hammond said. The school integrates specialized instruction for English learners into all of its lessons, plus a 30-minute session of concentrated teaching for just English learners each day, Ferreira said. “What’s good for English learners works for all students,” said teacher Lindsay Goettsch, who teaches a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class at the school. Last week, the teacher moved across the classroom reading “The One and Only Ivan,” a story about a gorilla performing in a shopping mall circus, to the 34 students in her class. Goettsch held up a whiteboard with the word “I predict …” written on it. “Predict what will happen with Ivan and share it with your partner,” she told the class. After a moment of silence while the students pondered the question, the room buzzed with whispers as students excitedly bounced ideas for the conclusion to the book off their classmates.

Education experts agree that more research is necessary to find out which teaching practices are the most effective with high-need populations and that low-income students need more resources. The state is in the third year of an eight-year program that directs more money to schools with a high number of English learners, foster children and students from impoverished families. Both Darling-Hammond and Plank are optimistic the scores overall will improve and the achievement gap will narrow as students from low-income families become more familiar with technology and the test.

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