SPARTA, NJ- This year there have been many changes in education. These changes are not unique to Sparta. Some are New Jersey initiatives and some are national changes.
Earlier this year Dr Melissa Varley, Director of Curriculum, held an informational forum for middle and high school parents, similar to the program given for elementary school parents. She shared the stage with Principals Dan Johnson and Doug Layman and Guidance and the department Supervisors Jennifer Chintala- Math Middle School, Mary Hassenplug-English High School, Denis Sheeran- Math High School, Steve Schels- Social Studies, Greg Van Nest- English Middle School, Marisa Wilson- Science.
Much of the discussion involved the new Common Core State Standards, highlighting changes that have had significant impact on students' experience in the classroom. The development of the English language arts and math standards was sponsored by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, in a movement that began in the 1990s.
The rationale for the Common Core is to ensure college and career readiness upon completion of high school. Additionally, the new standards will provide continuity across state lines; a 3rd grader in North Dakota will be exposed to the same standards as a 3rd grader in Florida and New Jersey.
Currently 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the standards, according to Common Core State Standards Initiative information.
Discussing math, Varley explained that the previous Core Curriculum Content Standards required instruction be "a mile wide and an inch deep." Students were expected to be exposed to a large range of topics without going in-depth. Explaining the new model with a triangle diagram, instruction will begin at the elementary level with much explanation and repetition and less application of abstract ideas, a large base, evolving to the high school level, where math students primarily apply abstract concepts and there is less need for instruction, and repetition; the top of the triangle.
The math standards now mandate eight principals of mathematics to be taught for every level from kindergarten through twelfth grade. The standards allow for course sequencing and pacing to be determined at the district level. For example, course sequence can allow Algebra I to be followed by Geometry or Algebra II. The instructional sequencing and pacing is no longer text book based, where the class follows the order prescribed by the book, but is driven by the standards themselves.
The reading standards for English include exposure to the classics and contemporary literature. The largest shift for students in New Jersey is the increased emphasis on non-fiction as a way to develop analytical and reasoning skills that can be extrapolated to other subject areas. For writing, the emphasis shifts to analytical and persuasive pieces with less expository reflection.
The district has responded to the language skill requirements by re-introducing spelling in the elementary grades and vocabulary building in the secondary schools. Technology and media requirements are embedded across content areas, including the need for strong keyboarding skills.
The district has responded to those requirements by introducing keyboarding as early as second grade, evaluating computer skills across grade levels to identify needs and proposed "bring your own device" policy for the high school.
Standards for science and social studies are not addressed in the Core Content State Standards. Science standards are in the process of being developed through the Next Generation Science Standards which can be linked to the standards for math and English already created. New Jersey is one of the 26 states involved in their development.
Sparta's students are also experiencing a new system of assessments used to evaluate their mastery of skills and standards. The new Teacher evaluation system is an additional major change to education, interconnected with the student assessments. These complex topic will be explored further in an upcoming article.