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How New Academic Standards Will Affect The Classroom

It’s not just ABCs and 123s for kindergartners at Eastern Elementary in Greentown. They learn how to write entire sentences and how to do basic math.

Tami Maurer’s been teaching there for 12 years. She says she tries to stay out of the politics and focus on her kids, but the fight over the Common Core was one she was forced into. A group opposed to the nationally-crafted standards has been lobbying to repeal them for two years.

As the state has debated what standards to use next, it’s created confusion for teachers. Maurer really doesn’t have a strong opinion about the standards the Indiana Education Roundtable approved this week. She’s just glad the issue is settled so she can begin making plans for next year.

At first glance she says the new standards are fairly similar to the Common Core so the transition hopefully won’t be too difficult.

“Just some language issues as far as grammar expectations for kindergarten, and that’s really the only standards I was looking at. So just different tweaks that we would need to make with our report card,” Maurer says.

In the previous standards, for example, kindergartners were required to write complete sentences. The new standards are more specific: complete sentences that include singular or plural nouns, and verbs.

“One thing I did like that I saw that they’re doing with these standards is they’re lining them up so that I can see what a kindergarten student’s standards are and I can see how it’s sequential with all the other standards for first grade, second grade, and on up the line. So I can see expectations for all grade levels. That’s something that I did like on the layout of this one,” Maurer says.

These new standards weren’t made in a vacuum.

Though Indiana officially withdrew from the Common Core last month, elements of the nationally-crafted standards are in this new draft. State education officials asked teams of evaluators to look at every standard in the Common Core — and every standard Indiana has used in the past. The results, says state superintendent Glenda Ritz, are Indiana-specific standards.

“Keep in mind, we looked at every single standard of those. It wasn’t just a cursory review. We actually evaluated every single one to come up with the standards we have now. We believe they are clear, they are rigorous, and they are college and career ready,” Ritz said. “And that’s what we set out to do, to make sure our kids would be prepared.”

But opponents say the new standards are too similar to the Common Core. They booed when Superintendent Ritz and Governor Mike Pence called the process to create the new standards “transparent” at Monday’s meeting. They say their viewpoint wasn’t represented in the process.

“What was supposedly kicked out of Indiana just four weeks ago is about to be ushered back in the back door,” Heather Crossin, the co-founder of Hoosiers Against Common Core, said during a speech at the rally.

Teachers Have Limited Time To Prepare For New Standards

The new standards aren’t substantially different, but they’re different enough that Eastern Howard School Corporation Superintendent Tracy Caddell says he’s concerned the new Indiana standards will make it difficult to compare his students to kids in other states.

“I know one of the concerns in speaking with other superintendents is AP and SAT scores, and those sorts of things, particularly SAT,” Caddell said. “They’re gonna be written, it’s my understanding, around the Common Core, and so I have a concern that our kids may not do as well on SAT’s in the future as they have.”

And Caddell is frustrated: Indiana schools were told the state was moving towards Common Core. His district and others spent time and money getting teachers ready for the new standards. Now they’ll have to start teaching to the new expectations with very little lead time.

“Well, we’re fortunate we have 30 minutes of professional development every day before school starts,” Caddell said. “So we’ll be able to adapt, but there will be quite a few schools out there who don’t have the luxury of daily professional development, so I think it’s gonna be a struggle to implement them for the next school year. It’s a tight timeline.”

Teachers aren’t the only ones who think the timeline is tight — members of the State Board have said they feel rushed, too. But Indiana has to meet a July 1 deadline state lawmakers set last year. If not, it could run afoul of an agreement with the federal government to implement new standards and new tests by spring 2015. So it’s likely the new standards will get final approval at the board meeting Monday.

The next step will be picking a new test to replace the ISTEP, which assesses the state’s current standards. Students are scheduled to take two tests in spring 2015— one to meet state requirements, and the other to satisfy federal guidelines. But it’s as yet unclear what that new test will look like. It’s the next thing State Board members will have to consider.

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