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School board gets update on new state standards

By Staff | Feb 1, 2012

The superintendent of the Lee County School District provided some insight Tuesday as to what the district is facing with the “common core state standards” that will be enforced by the 2014-2015 school year.

Superintendent Dr. Joseph Burke told school board members that the standards were adopted by the state and established as the basic expectations for all students.

In terms of curriculum, Burke said the core standards will be rigorous at every level in terms of expectations of the students work and how teachers are working with the students.

He said America has fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with college degrees, which is a decline from 12 years ago when America was the first in the world.

“It is not a very pretty picture,” Burke said.

The focus of the standards that were adopted is to prepare and make students ready for college and the career path they choose. To help meet that requirement, four priorities were set – read, write, think and speak and differentiate.

Burke said thinking and speaking is a new element. Students will have to form critical thinking skills, along with knowing how to represent those skills.

The speaking portion of the focus, Burke said, will better equip students with the ability to organize their thoughts, along with doing presentations that will persuade teachers and their peers.

The last common core standard, differentiate, Burke said will be based on how students look, understand and explain evidence, along with making alternative arguments.

One of the issues that reflect the alignment of students meeting the new standards reflects the text books that the teachers have.

“If we are going to have our students adequately prepared for the common core standards, we are going to have to do a substantial amount of work for structural reading and putting the kinds of resources in the hands of the teachers,” Burke said. “Our current text books do not do that.”

Burke told the board at the end of his presentation that there are four big things that are coming together to create a perfect storm.

The first element is the demographics of the schools in the district. Burke said students are becoming more impoverished; more students of color, especially Hispanic, are entering the district as are more English Language Learners and special need students.

“The demographics, although it is enriching in terms of diversity of population, is challenging the needs of the learners,” he said, which is becoming more complex year after year.

The second element of the storm, Burke said, is the new teacher evaluation process, which has the district looking much more intensely at the dynamics and teaching process in the classroom, along with looking at the learners.

“That is a challenge,” Burke said. “Our principals are telling us that it is creating some anxiety.”

Burke said the new requirement states that 50 percent of teacher evaluations have to be made based on the outcome of student learning, which is another anxiety point for teachers. He said they need to be actively supporting the teachers, along with helping them understand the process while building confidence.

A major briefing will be provided for district staff on how the whole process is going this month.

The third element is the new FCAT cut scores under 2.0.

“We know that is going to change the game in terms of school grades,” he said adding that it will determine how many of the district’s students will actually get to level 3.

According to information released by the Florida Department of Education, the number of A schools will drop by 11 percent at the state level, which is a decrease in 350 schools.

Burke said they anticipate that they will drop by approximately 19 percent at the number of A schools at the elementary level. He said middle schools will probably maintain the same percentage in A schools, but the number of B schools will drop.

A change in feelings for both the students and teachers will be felt, Burke said, due to students believing that they are failing when they are not and teachers believing they are not getting the job done.

The final element is the common core standards that are to be met during the 2014-2015 school year. Burke said the standards are a whole new set of assessments which will instruct how the district evaluates teachers, schools and the progress of students.

“The picture that I am trying to give you is of a very significant challenge of every school district in Florida,” he said. “We have an outstanding group of principals and leaders and teachers, but we are going to have to find some very eloquent ways to support them.”

Burke assured the board that the school district will continue to perform at high levels as the standards continue to escalate.

“Very do able, but very challenging,” he said.

Burke said he would like to have their own teachers working side by side with their colleagues in the classroom in real time while working with the students. He said he would like to use the district’s best teachers as a key resource through the process.

“We have to figure out how to get our teachers through the perfect storm,” Burke said.