Friday March 22, 2013

ZEKE WRIGHT

Staff Writer

CAMBRIDGE, N.Y. -- Curriculum changes in line with New York’s Common Core Learning Standards are coming to the high school math department at Cambridge Central School.

"More of a paradigm shift"

"The transition to the core ended up being more of a paradigm shift than anybody thought it was going to be," said Betty Barrett, a math consultant for Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex BOCES. In a presentation to CCS board members earlier this month, Barrett said she worked with secondary math teachers at Cambridge to develop new coursework following along the reform agenda.

Beginning last October, Barrett worked with teachers analyzing both where the math program is and where it needs to be under the new requirements. Superintendent Vincent Canini said the department was bridging the outgoing New York state standards with the Common Core.

At their March 12 meeting, school board members reviewed a proposal with conceived future course offerings expected for next fall. Barrett said the changes altered the present program to allow the core to be incorporated while still offering an accelerated path for the top learners. An informational session is planned with parents of incoming high school students next month before the regular board meeting April 9.


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In a telephone interview Thursday, High School Principal Tammy Silvernell said the Common Core pushed for a "much deeper conceptual understanding of math."

"A lot of the material emphasizes not only problem-solving, but fluency," like quick mental computations, she said. Silvernell said the changes also had the benefit of allowing students to get on and off the accelerated math track.

Asked for input from the math department at the board meeting, high school math teacher Carmen Robinson said the best thing about the changeover was that it allowed the school to "plot a successful route for every kid in the building." Echoing Silvernell, Robinson said the proposed offerings would allow a student who had a slow start but then finds their "math voice" a way to accelerate to advanced coursework and an advanced Regents diploma.

The current state Education Department timeline for implementation has some high school Regents exams aligned to the Common Core next year, followed by full implementation in 2014-15. The shift is part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative: a national effort to increase U.S. educational standards. Barrett said the focus was on new content and fluency, or a "deeper understanding" of topics.

"Can they take what they’ve learned and use it to solve problems? ... Rather than just being the process, ‘How do you do it,’" Barrett explained. In addition, "the bar of content has been raised without even moving kids from their own level. There has been an automatic acceleration," she continued. Topics in math previously taught in the high school will now be introduced in earlier grades.

"The shift to the core has shaken all of us to the core, every school district, K right on through," said Barrett.

Although leading to higher standards, the transition poses hurdles -- particularly for those students caught halfway through the change. Additionally, local school districts have seen year-to-year drops in standardized test results with the introduction of more difficult exams. Elementary Principal Colleen Lester said her concern was with parents who saw their childrens’ scores drop and wonder why. Academic Intervention Services will also have to be provided to a larger pool of students deemed not proficient under the more rigorous standards.

Another concern revolves around teaching staff evaluations (known as Annual Professional Performance Reviews) that partially hinge on student assessments. Statewide, Barrett said local school districts were "all in the same boat."

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