Bay Schools curriculum director helps develop national tests
Talk to people about the coming changes to public school curriculum, and you might get a patient nod of the head with an eye roll thrown in from those who see new standards and tests as just one more experiment in the never-ending quest toward school reform.
Char Shryock will tell you that this time is different.
“This has been a very strong process that makes absolute sense,” said the Bay Village Schools’ curriculum director. As a PARCC Education Leader, Shryock is working with the consortium of educators and researchers from across the country on the tests that will measure whether students are learning the new Common Core Standards, skills that 46 states have agreed students should master in order to ultimately be “college and career ready” when they graduate high school.
“The Common Core Standards were driven in the beginning by business getting involved,” said Shryock. “Employers were finding that the high school graduates they hired didn’t have the basic skills to, for example, read and comprehend technical manuals required for their jobs. Colleges and universities also reported that far too many freshmen needed remedial courses in both math and reading.”
The Common Core movement, initiated by state governors throughout the U.S., brought in employers, college leaders and professors, teachers, researchers and other experts to determine what students should know in math and language arts when they graduate high school. Then they “walked back” those requirements from twelfth grade down to kindergarten to develop standards at each grade level that would build upon one another over the entire K-12 experience.
This “begin with the end in mind” process makes sense to Shryock, as does the idea that schools across the country will be teaching the same course content in the same grade, following the same learning progression.
“We are a more mobile society than ever before. Imagine how great it will be for parents who move to know their children are prepared to pick up at their new school just where they left off at their old school.”
Another important change driven by the Common Core Standards is a narrower, but deeper, focus on what is studied, a change Shryock applauds. “I remember as a science teacher having 100 standards to cover in a course. So we covered all these items and checked them off. Did the students have a deep understanding of what we studied? Often, no. There just wasn’t time.”
Shryock said the new standards and the tests that will measure their mastery focus on truly applying knowledge, along with some memorization. “Students can memorize a formula in algebra, plug in the numbers correctly and get the right answer. But can they explain why the formula is applied? Do they have a deep understanding of when they would use a calculation in the real world? That is what the tests will measure.”
The new tests, which begin in the 2014-15 academic year, will be taken on computers, rather than with paper and pencil as in the past. This change will allow the tests to be truly interactive, offering simulations and items to manipulate on screen as well as standard answer selection and essay responses. In addition to an end-of-course test, students will take a “performance-based” test, where they will apply their knowledge to new problems and situations.
“The test scores for districts across the board will not look so good in 2014-15,” warns Shryock. “It will take time to build this system through teacher training, updating of classroom materials, upgrades in technology and also evaluation of our tests once they are in use in order to get the precision we need in our methods and assessments. I have the utmost confidence in our Bay Village teachers that they will meet these challenges while insuring that students get the best education possible through the transition.”
Char Shryock’s blog at iteachbay.blogspot.com/ follows her insights and her work with PARCC as well as those of her colleagues throughout the country.
Public Information Officer for the Bay Village City School District