School districts concerned about implementing Common Core Standards

, Posted: Fri, November 1 2013 at 7:18 PM, Updated: Fri, November 1 2013 at 7:46 PM

Kathi Bowen-Jones has taught English at Ashland High School for 31 years, but her lessons focus on a lot more than that.

"In my heart I have always been educating a student for a promised life and life can have and will earn."

But Bowen-Jones is concerned about the nation's newest educational initiative, Common Core; curriculum every child in 45 states will now be tested on. It's a test many agree is a lot harder that former tests, in New York only 31% of students passed.

"You get kind of teary eyed when you think what is this? Is this some sort of tyranny that's coming down on our most important function, to educate the young?"

Bowen-Jones and other educators in Southern Oregon don't argue, the common core standards promote problem solving and critical thinking. They are supposed to better prepare students for college. But college, or at least financial aid for it, is out of the question without a diploma.

"The generational effects of not having a diploma are really significant."

Ashland High School Principal, Michelle Zundel says starting next spring in Oregon, a diploma will depend on passing Common Core's Smarter Balanced Assessment. Students with disabilities will have a lower pass rate, and qualify for what's called a modified diploma.

"The difficulty with a modified diploma is you're not qualified for federal assistance you can't go to the military."

Oregon and California juniors will take the test next spring. And teachers are feeling the pinch. Making a situation more stressful, Medford teachers are now in their 8th month without a contract.

This is also the first year of proficiency grading in Oregon,       meaning daily work holds less weight than tests and projects. Also starting this year, High School students need to take three years of math, Algebra or higher in order to gradute.

"I want to make sure every kid has hope for their future and even if they're not good at math they can be contributing members of society."

But Zundel, and Debbie Connolly who's the head of curriculum for Medford Schools, say they're pulling out all the stops trying to do whatever they can to create safety nets for students.

"They can take a double math class, double English class, summer school."

Teachers like Bowen-Jones are trying to figure out how to give students practice tests. But she says it's hard because it seems like the leaders behind Common Core keep switching them up. 

"They always do better when they have practice on the exact format and I don't think we can deliver on that until the state says this is exactly what's going on." 

Bowen-Jones says it's watching students graduate and become whoever they're meant to be, that drives her. She just hopes the new test won't drive them toward failure. That's why she and other educators are scrambling to work with yet another standardized system.

The state has not yet decided what qualifies as passing for the Smarter Balanced Assessment. 

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