Superintendents Message -Common Core

Post Date: Dec 03, 2013

Message from the Superintendent

Re: SGHS and Montana Curriculum Standards: HISTORY, NOW, CONTROVERSY, ASK

I have been following and been involved in the discussion and concern that surrounds recent work on curriculum standards that have the label of Montana Common Core Standards.  I am appreciative of the attention this topic has drawn, as what our students are being taught is an important topic – and curriculum standards do influence that work.  When there is a change in this area, it should be reviewed and considered carefully. 


I have to admit that part of me is amused by this recent stir.  Standards for curriculum have been a national topic since the 1970s when the nation became concerned that we were losing the “space race.”  Most of the work on standards during that era was done by the professional educator associations such as the National Council of Mathematics Teachers.  Those standards tended to impact only specific disciplines such as math, science, or English with little or no connection to the other disciplines.  That is not to say the work done was sub-standard (no pun intended); in fact, even in the most recent work on standards elements of those concepts are still evident.  You could say good teaching back then still has some impact on good teaching now. The standards landscape did change somewhat during the 1990s as state education departments – in Montana that is the Office of Public Instruction (OPI) – became involved in standards review and writing.  This was again in response to concerns that the USA was slipping behind in international testing results.   OPI used a forward-thinking approach to that standard’s work.  Curriculum Content Standards were developed in areas such as math, science, social studies, world languages, health, arts, career, and vocational areas, but there were also standards that were not specific to a discipline for technology, workplace competencies, and media literacy.  OPI also “broke up” the Language Arts standards from the 70’s into specific areas such as speaking and listening, reading, and writing.  In the early 2000s, SGHS did extensive work in these areas to develop course descriptions and learner outcomes, and then used that work to determine if the standards were being addressed in our content. We took it a step farther and included the standards for technology, workplace competencies, media literacy, and Language Arts in all discipline areas as we felt those were “life skills.”  In reviewing our checklists on the standards we found we did not address every single standard in every single class.  But that work did allow us to consider what we needed to do to ensure that our students were getting the best content as well as the best teaching possible.   OPI continues to update these particular content standards on a rotating basis and has added Traffic Education and Guidance to the list.


So now we come to the 2010s and the Montana Core Standards.  These were developed by the state education departments and representatives from governor’s offices across the nation  to give a national perspective to address our highly mobile population.   At SGHS, we have found that transfer students often had a much different experience in content than our students, and frankly most often were behind our students.   Montana has adopted the standards that impact math and English Language Arts, which is making our staff consider once more how we address the needs of our students in this day and age.  Furthermore, the new standards do reach across disciplines to impact science, social studies, arts, and vocational areas as well.  The developers of the standards recognized what we did at SGHS back in 2001; that reading, writing, speaking and listening are skills needed in every classroom and vocation.   So currently, we are thoughtfully reviewing what we teach once again to determine what would best serve our students.  I have included the Montana Core Standards at the end of this note for your review.  Check them for yourselves, and ask which of those skills you wouldn’t want your child to have when he/she graduates.


As I mentioned earlier, I am somewhat amused (but impressed) that this last standards movement has drawn so much attention.  With all the work we have done with standards for the last twelve years, this concern of some community members is surprising; however, it should be important to all of us.  Education is a human endeavor that requires a commitment of everyone involved.  How that is approached or guided by standards is an essential concern.  What does insult me is that people from outside our community are given so much credibility about this topic.  If you have questions about what is being done, come talk to the people who invest their lives in that area in your own community.  We at SGHS do not claim to have merely one answer to the question.   We consider all aspects of our work and welcome the opportunity to discuss it.  Unfortunately, what has happened in Sweet Grass County (as in many communities across Montana), the topic of Common Core Standards is a political chip to be played.  What better way to draw our attention to a political stance than to champion something dear to all of us – the education of our children!  In my opinion, these particular opponents of the Montana Common Standards do not pay much attention to details of this matter, because these people simply want attention so their other political objectives can be introduced and claim support.  For example, the most recent statement from this group I have heard is the Common Core forces pornography into classes.  The fact of the matter is the reading lists in the Common Core appendices were not adopted by Montana and are not required; rather OPI decided that the materials used to teach the skills to our students are best selected by the local curriculum expert – the classroom teacher.   The Core reading list has many of the respected classics and any reading list will bring out personal differences, but we agree the list needs review before any items are adopted or used. 


The learning outcomes and teaching materials at SGHS are open for review at any time.  Be aware that they are constantly being updated and revised.  Some of that present work is influenced by the latest round of standards so we can be sure our students are prepared for college and/or their future careers.  The newest standards have impacted our expectations and have caused us to reflect on what we need students to be able to do.  On the other hand the new standards have not caused us to drastically change our learner goals or any significant changes in materials/books.  Nor has it changed the fact that we want you to feel free to ask to see our curriculum work or the standards and to discuss them with myself or our staff.  We take our work seriously and have pride in our efforts and results, but we realize not everyone is going to agree at times with what we do or expect of students.  We welcome your questions and thank you for your support. Alvin Buerkle, Supt. SGHS

(The Standards as found at the site under the Curriculum and Assessment tab.) English Language Arts Montana Core Standards Reading (Grades 6-12) Key Ideas and Details 1. Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text. 2. Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas. 3. Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text. Craft and Structure 4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone. 5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole. 6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text. Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. 8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence. 9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take. Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity 10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently. Writing (Grades 6-12) Text Types and Purposes 1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. 2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. 3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences. Production and Distribution of Writing 4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach. 6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others. Research to Build and Present Knowledge 7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation. 8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism. 9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. Range of Writing 10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences. Speaking and Listening (Grades 6-12) Comprehension and Collaboration 1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. 2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally. 3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric. Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas 4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. 5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations. 6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. Language (Grades 6-12) Conventions of Standard English 1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking. 2. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing. Knowledge of Language 3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening. Vocabulary Acquisition and Use 4. Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate. 5. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. 6. Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

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