News From Terre Haute, Indiana

January 28, 2013

State reconsidering Common Core education

Legislation would withdraw Indiana from set of academic standards adopted by 45 states

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — As part of a lesson he teaches on alternative energy sources, Honey Creek Middle School teacher Bill Wilkinson has his students write an argumentative essay.

Students get in small groups and research such alternative energy sources as wind, hydropower or biomass.

The students then will write a five-paragraph essay that supports use of the energy source. The essay will have an introduction, three middle paragraphs and a conclusion.

Wilkinson is incorporating the writing into his science classes as part of Indiana’s Common Core standards.

He understands the reasoning for more writing, even in science classes. Students may not choose science as a career, but no matter what they do, they’ll need strong reading, writing and speaking skills.

The Indiana Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards for math and language arts in August 2010, and the standards will be fully implemented in 2014-15. A new online assessment will replace ISTEP-plus.

Common Core is a set of nationally crafted academic standards adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Similar to other Indiana school districts, the Vigo County School Corp. has been implementing the new standards and training teachers on what they are and how to incorporate them into instruction.

Also, Vigo and other districts have or are in the process of adopting reading textbooks that include Common Core standards.

Yet, state legislation has been introduced that, if passed, would withdraw Indiana from the Common Core.

Those opposed to Common Core say Indiana already has strong academic standards, and some have concerns about loss of local control.

Those supporting Common Core say the standards bring added rigor to the classroom and better prepare students for college and/or a career.

Karen Goeller, Vigo County School Corp. deputy superintendent, said Indiana’s existing academic standards already have an “A” rating, so Common Core “has not been a drastic change.”

With Common Core, “Reading levels will be more challenging for students as they move through the grades,” she said. It has a much stronger focus on asking students to read multiple texts, make comparisons and provide an analysis.

Also, writing expectations are more structured. Instead of asking students to write personal narratives or creative essays, Common Core emphasizes writing argumentative and informational essays supported by what they’ve read.

Because Indiana standards were already rated an A, “It would be difficult to say that these Common Core standards are better than Indiana’s earlier standards. We can say they are different, especially in their approach to literacy across all content areas in middle and high school,” Goeller said.  

In the last two years, middle and high school teachers such as Wilkinson have worked to add the three writing types (argumentative, informative and narrative).

Jean McCleary, a second-grade writing teacher, said that with Common Core, there is more focus on writing nonfiction pieces. Previous standards didn’t focus as much on informative, explanatory writing.

This week, for example, her students will begin working on a project in which they study koalas. They will do research and then write factual, informative pieces.

“The type of writing children are expected to do is changing,” McCleary said.

 They also are writing more opinion pieces. “We’ve talked a lot about what is opinion and what is fact,” she said.

In the past, the second-graders might have done more descriptive writing or writing based on their own personal experiences, she said.

Valarie Bailey, VCSC curriculum coordinator of language arts, said that one of the major differences between Indiana standards and the Common Core is the emphasis on college/career readiness.

“That’s a positive for our students,” said Goeller, and they believe the added emphasis on writing will help better prepare students for the SAT and ACT.

As for a legislative proposal to withdraw from the Common Core, Goeller noted, “We’re already two years into the process.”

Much time and money has been spent on teacher staff development, and districts are adopting reading textbooks — approved by the state — that are based on Common Core standards.

“It would be a financial consideration for districts that have just adopted a textbook series based on the Common Core,” Goeller said.

Also, Indiana has already committed to a new assessment based on the Common Core, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), Goeller said.

Students will start taking that test in 2014-15. One of the benefits of the new system is that it will allow for comparison between states, which up to now have had their own standards, Goeller said.

John Newport, VCSC curriculum coordinator for math and science, said current math standards have been described by some as “a mild wide and an inch deep.” Under Common Core, standards will be fewer but allow for more in-depth study.

He noted that at the middle school level, eighth-grade Family and Consumer Science teachers are doing activities that incorporate both math and language arts Common Core standards.

Students research career interests as well as college costs; they figure the cost to attend college and how much they would need to earn at a job to pay off college loans.

In a writing component, students write a letter to parents telling them about their career interests.

By learning about the cost of college, it gets students thinking about high school classes and opportunities to earn college credit while still in high school, Newport said.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or sue.loughlin@