CALDWELL – School reform has been a hot topic for the last few years, not only here in Idaho, but across the nation. Now, Governor Otter has a task force looking into what's next for Idaho schools.
While that task force doesn't plan to give the governor recommendations until the 2014 legislative session, there are some changes that will hit every school this fall.
There hasn't been a lot of talk about it, but it's coming. We're talking about the common core. The idea behind this is to better educate our kids and better prepare them for college and the work force.
Do you remember the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off?" If so, you can imagine actor Ben Stein playing the role of that stereotypical teacher lecturing his students. Students, as you might be able to relate, were not engaged.
"That's the stereotype that we think of, but that's all too true, right?" asked Nick Smith, Idaho Chief Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction. "That's what many of us experienced in some classes, and we're definitely moving away from that."
Back in 2009, Idaho began working with other states to come up with a set of standards and curriculum.
"When Idaho would assess students on the ISAT, and we would see certain levels of proficiency, compared to what Washington was assessing with their WASL, you couldn't compare them," said Smith. "They were apples and oranges. We were looking at two different things."
It was difficult for the state to see why Idaho students would do well in high school but struggle in college.
"They would have to be remediated in math and English, and that's expensive," said Smith.
So in November 2010 the state school board approved the new higher standards in math and English.
"One of the things that we wanted to accomplish with this is a higher level of preparation for college," said Smith.
Now, Idaho is one of 45 states to adopt the standards that allow them to compare students across state lines. Right now, only a handful of Idaho schools are teaching this, since adopting these standards is a choice each district can make.
"The content has changed, and that's a fact, but it's also the pedagogy," said Smith. "How the teacher is teaching in the classroom, that is changing with these standards."
An 8th grade language and literature class and a 5th grade class in the Vallivue School District are working under the common core.
"It's very different from before where a teacher was to, like, speak truth and then a student was to just memorize it," said Nicholas Darlinton, 8th grade teacher at Sage Middle School. "Now students are being asked to, like, look at a variety of texts and select what's true."
So rather than telling students what they need to know, they need to discover it for themselves. It forces students to figure out how to learn, getting them to talk about the why.
"I think it's easier to learn it that way, but it's just in my opinion," said 8th grader Sydney Batey. "It's a little bit more work, but it's beneficial.”
The 5th graders at West Canyon Elementary can also attest to more work.
Not only do they need to get the right answer, they now need to explain how they got there. Fifth grader Riata Doramus calls it fun math.
"When you have fun math, you really want to get into it and want to get deeper into the problems and understand. When there's just regular math, you see how fast you can go on it," said Doramus. "You get to understand it so it makes it easier in life so you understand more of the problems so you get more benefit."
It's big a shift from years past. Parents can expect their students to be challenged more, to tackle curriculum that, in the past, was saved for older students.
"They should see more writing across the board in every curriculum," said Darlinton. "Students will be creating products that demonstrate or share ideas in almost every discipline."
The expectations are now higher. The bar has been raised. Students will be held to a higher standard. Gone are the days of just getting the right answer.
Come this fall every school across the Gem State will adopt these standards, something that was set in motion since the state adopted them back in 2010. Standards, Darlinton says, frees teachers and students to spread their wings.
"Before, with a lot of education we have been like, this is a map of everything that we know, and I want to share this with you," said Darlinton. "In the common core, it's more like we want to teach you how to be explorers and cartographers so you can go out and make as much map as you want."
A big shift from the education some of us received many years ago, especially when comparing it to the teachers who remind us of actor Ben Stein in "Ferris Bueller’s Day Off."
"If we can pull them, if we can stretch them and stretch their thinking, I think we'll just be setting the stage for such a better future for these kids," said Sally Vanderveen, 5th grade teacher at West Canyon Elementary.
Right now the common core only applies to math and English, but science standards aren’t far away.
Another sure thing that is coming to Idaho schools is a new test to replace the ISAT. It will be based on the new common core standards.
Educators are already saying that we can expect test scores to drop for at least the first year, not because students aren't as smart any more, they're just now held to a higher standard. That test will roll out for the 2014-2015 school year.