Common Core Standards
by Superintendent Gail Malay

CAD gold medal winner
Lake Havasu Unified Superintendent Gail Malay.
Many people have been asking me my thoughts on Common Core Standards. There is a lot of discussion going on. In case you haven’t heard about Common Core Standards, let me start with a definition. Standards are what students are expected to learn so that teachers and parents know what they need to do to support student learning.

Our country and Lake Havasu City have become very transitory. It is nice to have some common agreements on what students should learn among most states. The quality of a child’s education should not be based on where they live and right now for some children across our nation it does.

Common Core Standards are to address two major issues: the growing number of college students requiring remedial courses and the growing skills gap in our workforce. Both college faculty and business people want a more rigorous K-12 curriculum.

One of the concerns among people not wanting Common Core is local control. We do have local control in developing our curriculum maps. We start with the standard from Common Core, and then we develop our essential questions, our academic vocabulary, what resources we will use and how we will teach. We have done a lot of professional development (training) with our staff on the most effective instructional strategies.

Here is an example from our third grade curriculum map for English Language Arts developed by our third grade teachers. The standard is: Describe characters in a story (i.e. their traits, motivations or feelings) and explain how their actions contribute to the sequence of events. The teachers then developed the essential questions that would support that learning outcome. An example of an essential question would be: How do character traits affect their actions? Academic vocabulary would include words like: character traits, motivation, sequence, similarities, evidence, dialogue and narrations.

We are finding many students come to school today without an academic vocabulary. Vocabulary development really supports learning. Teachers are critical in helping students develop their vocabulary. We are asking our staff to please use the academic vocabulary they are teaching on a regular basis so that is will become part of our student’s word choice when speaking and writing.

As Superintendent of Lake Havasu Unified School District one of my main concerns is this: Are our students reading well? Our district’s reading scores hover right around 90% of our students being at or above grade level. With the world changing so fast successful people have to be lifelong learners. In order to be a lifelong learner one must be able to read well.

The Common Core does ask us to introduce more reading for information. Younger children are enjoying this. Think about how much most children enjoy going to the zoo; they also enjoy reading about animals.

Students like to read biographies. Recently a classroom was discussing Thomas Edison and how his perseverance led to the invention of the light bulb.

At the secondary level we are still teaching classics. I don’t know of an English teacher who would allow all the classics to be taken out of the curriculum. English teachers are passionate about teaching the classics because they provide universal themes and teach about times gone by.

Math is also very important. I have shared with staff that math is a gateway class to higher paying jobs. We have been working hard on improving our math achievement. One of the first things we did a few years ago was to ask the question: Why do most of our students do well in elementary mathematics but start to have trouble in middle and high school? We found two main issues: students who did not memorize their math facts struggled and students who did not really understand the mathematical concepts from elementary school were having problems. Memorizing math facts is a family affair--there is only so much time in school. When families do flash cards and other games that reinforce math facts students do much better. In order to help students better understand math, we added Math Talk to our classrooms. During math talk, students must explain how they got their answers. When students hear other students or the teacher thinking out loud it really improves their understanding of math.

Some of what I hear being discussed about Common Core is fear based. I will wrap up with two quotes on fear:

“There is no passion so contagious as that of fear.” Michel de Montaigne

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt

When school opens in August, please feel free to drop by one of your local schools and ask to visit a classroom. You will see teachers hard at work trying to provide the very best education possible to get our students ready for the ever changing world we live in.

AZ Common Core website.
USA Today editorial.