SEATTLE — This fall, some classes may get harder for public school students — and teachers — across Washington. That’s when many districts will roll out new, more rigorous language arts and math standards, known as the Common Core. Washington is one of 45 states that have adopted the same set of K-12 standards.
Some Washington teachers have already started using them. At Sylvester Middle School in Burien, teacher Christy Bowman-White read a poem about a nail-biter basketball shot to her honors language arts class on a recent school day.
“The ball slides up and out, lands, leans, wobbles, wavers, hesitates, plays it coy,” Bowman-White read the poem slowly so her students could savor each word.
Bowman-White had a very specific goal for her class that day.
“Here it is,” she told her students. “Analyze the impact of rhymes and other repetitions of sound on a specific verse or stanza of a poem.”
That’s one of the Common Core State Standards. The new learning objectives are meant to prepare kids for college, and to make sure students here in Burien are on the same page as students across the county and across the country.
Until now, each state had its own, often very different, set of standards.
In language arts, for example, students are supposed to read more difficult books, more non-fiction, and use more textual evidence to support their arguments. Although most classrooms in Washington won’t incorporate the Common Core standards until this fall at the earliest, these students in the Highline School District have been learning the new, tougher standards all year.
There’s no set Common Core curriculum; it’s up to teachers to decide how to teach the rigorous standards.
In her first year of using the new standards, Bowman-White said she’s
found they help students become better thinkers. She says the Common Core is better organized than Washington’s last
set of standards, which seemed really random to her. Bowman-White said even though only some of the old standards appeared on a previous state standardized language arts test, the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, the list of standards she was supposed to teach filled a book.
“It was like a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and they put a ‘W’ next to the ones that would appear on the WASL. And so everybody paid attention to just those 12,” she said. “It was kind of a muck. And who knows what students were really learning. It turns out maybe not so much.”
In 2015, students in Washington will start taking new statewide tests reflecting the Common Core objectives. Bowman-White said even though the state tests are two years away, the increased rigor of the new standards makes it important to get a head start. “It’s a big jump. It’s a big, big jump,” she said.