Some of the 50 parents who turned out at Gower Middle School Oct. 24 to learn more about the new Common Core curriculum raised concern it poses challenges to students already learning the old way.
“It’s a very good change, if you’re in first grade,” said Dave Sheehan, father of a Gower seventh-grader.
He said the changes to the math curriculum have been a struggle for his daughter. Like other parents in attendance, he worries about lower grades as his child prepares to enter high school.
“It’s a different way to look at how we educate our students,” said Tracy Murphy, principal at the middle school.
The new standards aren’t just different, they’re also more rigorous. Things that used to be taught in fifth or sixth grade now might be taught in third or fourth grade, Murphy said. That has some parents concerned.
The new math curriculum emphasizes problem solving and application of math principles to real-life situations. Rather than a list of number problems, a Common Core exam would include more complex, multistep word problems that put math concepts to work.
Gina Rodewald, principal at Gower West Elementary School, shared an example of a seventh-grade math problem in which the student was given facts about three readers — a number of pages read, the number of pages in the book and the number of days that reading took place. The student then was asked not only to figure the reading rate of each student, but also to decide which student would be first to finish his book.
Once adopted, Gower’s new English/Language Arts curriculum will focus on evaluation and analysis. Rather than simply defining a word, for example, a reader will be asked to find details of a story that support the choice of that definition.
Janelle Goins of Burr Ridge said she is happy her children are getting in on the ground floor. Unlike older children, her kindergartner and first-grader won’t notice the change.
While Fang-Ling Lin-Millman believes the changes are good, they also are ambitious. She worries that children will have trouble balancing the new, heavier workload with family and other activities.
“How do we find that balance?” she asked.
Like the Sheehans, Lin-Millman said her seventh-grader has found the new math requirements to be a challenge.
“It is hard to see her struggle,” she said, but in the long run, Lin-Millman agrees that Common Core, and its emphasis on practical application of knowledge, will be a good thing.
Superintendent Victor Simon offered parents some tips to help their children adapt.
“Have them figure out a tip at a restaurant,” he said.
The next time a child asks for a new phone or a new pair of jeans, ask him to present evidence that he actually needs to make the purchase, Simon suggested.
Murphy told parents to encourage their children to read fiction as well as nonfiction.
“They need both,” she said.
If all goes as planned, Gower students will take their last Illinois Standardized Assessment Test this year and will take their first Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam in 2014-15.
There are plenty of changes ahead, but administrators assured parents that the change is for good.
“In the end, it’s going to be very, very beneficial,” Murphy said.