FUSD to train in new Common Core State Standards

FRESNO, Calif.

"It's more cognitively demanding so it's more intellectually stimulating for kids and essentially more engaging," said Dr. David Christiansen, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Fresno Unified.

On Tuesday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced schools will get $622 Million in new state spending to roll out the program.

"The start of a school year is always exciting, but this year is something special," Torlakson said in a news release. "We're challenging every part of our education system to remodel itself, and, step by step, give students the tools to achieve their dreams. And after years of cuts and turmoil, we're finally able to start making the investments necessary to turn those dreams into a reality."

The funding release represents the first half of $1.25 billion allocated for this purpose, which was included in the state budget by Governor Brown and the Legislature. The second half of the funding will be released in October. The total amounts to $200 per student.

Meantime, teachers and administrators at Fresno Unified say a handful of classrooms are already ahead of the curve. That's because instructors like kindergarten teacher Joe Dawson have already started teaching the new common core standards with great results.

"He's only in his third week of school, but he has them already counting to 100, but more importantly understanding the math behind the counting. So what does it mean to sort numbers? What does it mean to categorize?" said Christiansen.

Starting this fall, schools will begin eliminating multiple-choice bubble tests for math and replacing them with step-by-step instruction to make sure students are learning rather than memorizing. That means California's Standardized Testing and Reporting System or STAR test will eventually be phased out. "The STAR testing is a thing of the past," Torlakson told reporters at a news conference last June. "It's a dozen years old. It's had its value. We're remodeling the system, and less of that memorization and multiple-choice testing and more critical thinking. The new assessments that will begin in the spring of 2015 will be computer-adaptive."

Robinson Elementary School teacher Joe Dawson was among the first 250 Fresno Unified teachers trained in Common Core over the summer and helped craft the district's curriculum.

"I've had the benefit of doing it before anyone else, that's for sure. But in doing it, I've found I'm able to teach way better than I have before because I'm really digging deeper into the understanding of a child instead of getting on the base level of their understanding."

He and other educators tell me the new state standards will provide students with the critical thinking and other skills they need to be college or career ready.

"Right now the U.S. ranks 17th in Math and 22nd in Science so what the governors and a group of state officers decided is we really had to develop higher expectations based on what students needed to produce and what outcomes needed to happen in the classroom," said Christiansen.

So while 2 + 2 will still equal four, the way your child learns Math and arrives at the correct answer is getting a major overhaul.

"I'm not just asking them to count, I'm trying to find out what their strategies are for counting," said Dawson.

School districts can decide for themselves how to use their share of the funds to train teachers, buy new materials, and purchase technology to help schools adapt to the new Common Core State Standards.

Torlakson also announced Monday a new online tool to help school districts develop plans to implement Common Core. Developed by the California Department of Education, the CCSS Systems Implementation Guide includes suggestions and resources for local implementation organized by the guiding strategies in the CCSS Systems Implementation Plan for California.

"The Guide takes the guesswork out of implementing a local plan, so teachers and schools can concentrate on their first priority: their students," Torlakson said.

Starting Wednesday, Fresno Unified will begin training some 3,600 teachers how to incorporate the curriculum into the classroom. The district will divide into three groups with the final batch finishing up the three-day seminar in February.

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