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Federal Way school district reviews readiness for Common Core State Standards

Federal Way Public Schools - Contributed
Federal Way Public Schools
— image credit: Contributed

With the new state-mandated Common Core State Standards (CCSS) set to take effect beginning with the next school year, the Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS) board of directors heard a review of the steps the district has been taking to ready itself for the new standards in the last two years.

Marie Verhaar, assistant superintendent of Teaching for Learning, said FWPS staff and administrators have been readying for CCSS since the summer of 2012.

“We developed … a transition plan,” Verhaar said at the board’s meeting on Tuesday. “In spring of 2012, we convened a team of teachers, administrators, who came together to talk about the transition to Common Core in Federal Way. We also met with a parent advisory group, who helped to add their insight and input as we made this transition.”

Verhaar noted the district created a webpage for parents specific to Common Core. The district has also been providing regular updates on the transition through various mediums, such as school newsletters. There have also been parent forums regarding CCSS, Verhaar said, and professional development has been occurring since 2012.

“In terms of professional development, our first year, 2012-13, we had development around the shifts, helping teachers to understand, what are those major differences between the former standards and the new standards, to help teachers gain awareness and have time to dig in. In 2013-14, we provided some additional professional development (for teachers), giving teachers some additional resources to help unpack the material. We’ve also had professional development for principals, coaches, teachers and, as I mentioned, for parents.”

Verhaar then touched on how CCSS will integrate with the district’s current initiatives, such as advanced placement classes and the Global Learning Initiative. She said all areas have been checked to make sure they are aligned with the CCSS, and a few programs had to make some adjustments to align with the new standards.

“I have to commend the Teaching for Learning Department, as well as the courageous, incredible teachers of this district who have taken this on, grabbed the bull by the horns, and put it into classrooms and into effect,” she said.

Board member Claire Wilson, whose educational expertise revolves around early learning (pre-K), asked Verhaar whether or not those learning communities have been included in the conversation as this changeover continues.

“Preschool has always been at the table with us throughout this process,” Verhaar replied.

“I recall that work on Standards Based Education (SBE) and Standards Based Grading (SBG) has put us in a position to be in a more ready stage than other districts, would that be a correct take still?” Wilson followed up.

“You are absolutely right, director Wilson,” Verhaar replied. “We set the table for the implementation of common core (by adopting SBE and SBG).”

Director Tony Moore noted that board members have seen an uptick recently in parents expressing concerns about Common Core, and wanted it made clear that the current priority standards the district uses are aligned with Common Core. Verhaar said yes because the standards the district are using now were pulled directly from the upcoming CCSS.

Moore also wondered how much flexibility CCSS leaves the district in instructional options.

“The standards are the ‘what,’” Verhaar said. “They’re what our state has determined our students need to learn. The ‘how’ is the flexible part. That’s the part where our professionals, our teachers, that’s where the power is, within our incredible teaching force in this district. The standards are merely guides, or road maps, to help get us there. But the power is in our classrooms.”

“(CCSS) is really high quality learning for our students, and it’d be hard to argue why you wouldn’t want any student to be prepared with those kind of skills,” Verhaar added.

CCSS, according to the website www.corestandards.org, are intended to “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.” The website notes that CCSS “are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

The push for CCSS arose because, up until their adoption, educational achievement standards varied from state to state, making it difficult to accurately gauge if what was being taught in Federal Way was lesser than, equal to, or greater than what was being taught in a community of comparable size somewhere else in the nation.

To get the district’s take and the resources it’s been working on for implementation of CCSS, visit www.fwps.org/teaching/common-core.

 

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