STAYTON — Discussions about the new federal Common Core standards are underway at schools across the United States. Catholic school parents wonder how the new requirements will affect their children.
The principal of St. Mary School here, Rick Schindler, has fielded many inquiries on that point. The short answer is this: Catholic schools are not required to abide by the standards because they are private, but many will adopt what has promise of working best.
“We are beginning to integrate some of the Common Core standards into our current framework, specifically within language arts," Schindler says. "One difference between our school and the public schools, however, is that we have a longer adjustment period. We don’t have to implement them all at once. And in fact, we wouldn't have to implement them at all, if we chose not to. However, there are many positives, so we’re taking our time and making sure we’re doing it well.”
Common Core, set by the federal government and voluntarily implemented by states, establishes a single set of educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English and math. The standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared for college or the workplace.
Common Core offers standards, not curriculum.
“Standards are what you want students to achieve, learning goals or levels of proficiency," Schindler says. "Curriculum is the tools you use to help your students master those standards; for example, textbooks, handouts, Internet searching or reading a scientific article.
Forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the standards. In Oregon, public schools will fully implement them by the 2014-’15 school year.
Archdiocese of Portland schools are already in year one of their own three-year plan for new language arts standards.
"We are looking at the Common Core standards, but we have not yet determined the final set of standards and will not fully implement anything until the 2015-’16 school year," says Julie Vogel, Director of Instructional Services and Accreditation with the archdiocese. "Yes, we will be using elements of the Common Core, but that won’t be the only standards that will be included because the Common Core does not address our Catholicity. We are making sure we are honoring our Catholicity, as well.”
Some parents and Catholic school supporters are uncertain about using state standards in a private school system. But it is not anything new.
“We’ve been using state standards frameworks in the Catholic schools since the 1990s," Vogel says. "We always consider Oregon state standards as a baseline, then modify them to make them fit our Catholic schools. It gives us a good place to start. People who come up with these standards are professionals in the world of education who really know what they’re doing.”
Tiffany Tyler, fifth-grade teacher at St. Mary, can attest to how it’s working for the students.
“The goal of these standards is to provide consistency across the board so there are fewer gaps between grade levels and across school systems," Tyler says. "One of the main benefits is that children who move from state to state can go into the same grade level and their transition is smoother than it has been in the past.” She explains that the standards appear to be "rigorous and challenging," and should help prepare children.
Tyler explained that the students are doing a lot more self-evaluation this year, which is encouraging them to take more responsibility for their learning. “We do a graded pre-assessment," she says. "Once the standard is over they take the same test again and they’re able to see their growth. They like that part of it, being able to see what they learned.”