Putting Education Reform To The Test

Parent University Provides A Lesson On New Common Core Standards

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

Joanne Land, right, and Lowry Elementary teacher Kimberly Henriquez, sort vocabulary words into tiers to learn more about how Common Core standards work. Land was one of hundreds of parents who attended a recent Parent University session. Many parents said they wanted to learn more about Common Core standards and testing.

The small group of parents hovered over a list of words, deciding where to sort “cloud,” “photosynthesis,” and “google.”  They paid particular attention to words indicating facts, evidence or conclusions.

Words such as analyze, convince or insight. Students will use these words to support their conclusions, analysis and opinions.

“This is the key category,” said Hillsborough County reading teacher Jane Mertens, explaining the significance of what she called “Tier 2” words. “This is college and career readiness. This is the vocabulary – that common language of comprehension.”

This is Parent University, and these students are studying new education standards known as Common Core. Florida and 44 other state have fully adopted Common Core standards, which will be used in every Florida grade beginning the fall of 2014.

Parent University is a project of the Alliance for Public Schools, a non-profit group which wants to inform parents about education issues. Classes at a recent Parent University session included how to choose a school, the transition to middle school or high school and how to pay for college. Classes were taught in English and Spanish.

This is the third Parent University session, and the “students” gave up a Saturday morning to attend classes at Riverview High School. About 500 people registered for the program.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

The vocabulary words parents were asked to sort into tiers.

Inside the class on Common Core, Mertens and Hillsborough County schools’ literacy director Lynn Dougherty-Underwood set up stations outlining fundamental concepts of the standards. The standards build upon themselves, so that what students learn in one grade becomes the foundation for what they learn the following year.

Common Core also puts more emphasis on reading embedding reading tasks into most lessons. It’s not just literature, but also real-life tasks such as job applications or instruction manuals. And those “Tier 2” words are the work force vocabulary.

“They’re also designed to be relevant to the real world,” Mertens told the class. “Common Core is about life readiness — not just college readiness, not just career readiness, but life readiness – and truly preparing our children for anything they will encounter”

Kindergarten and first grade classrooms are using the standards now, and more grades will add them next year.

Raquel Marquez is the mother of two elementary school students. She said she’s noticed the changes already.

“I have seen a huge change between my fifth grader and my second grader about the things they are learning in school and also how difficult the homework is getting lately,” Marquez said. Marquez attended all three Parent University events.

Marquez said she is concerned about the amount of standardized testing in school. Parent University had a full class to learn more about the standardized test which is scheduled to replace FCAT.

John O'Connor / StateImpact Florida

This exercise showed parents how the Common Core standards "stack," so that the lessons one year become a foundation for the following year's lessons.

Mom Joanne Land said she had heard Common Core was coming, but had little idea what the standards would mean.

“Very little actually,” Land said of what she knew about the standards. “I heard some information from my oldest girl who attends school, and she said it be something I need to really pay attention to. That it’s going to be changing the way kids are taught in school.

Land said she left the hands-on session with a better idea of what to expect from Common Core.

“Very informative, very eye-opening about how some of the academics are going to be increased, the levels are going to be increased,” Land said.

She says the change is overdue.

Hillsborough County schools are a partner in Parent University. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said the school district was doing what it should to let parents known about Common Core, but that plenty of parents still had questions about the change.

The Alliance for Public Schools is planning a forum on May 18th in Tampa and more Parent University sessions this fall. They plan to expand to other counties soon.


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