Starting this fall, high school students in Nevada might be noticing a big change in the way their teachers run their classes.
A nationwide movement to implement what is called the Common Core Standards has taken root in the Silver State. Common Core is a set of standards in English, math, and language arts that came about when the nation's governors got together to discuss how the states could improve their education systems. The system they came up with will effectively raise the bar on the difficulty of material presented to students.
It is going to be a big change for thousands of teachers and students in Washoe County and across the state.
"What we are trying to impress upon teachers right now is what will have to shift instructionally in order to meet these new outcomes," WCSD Common Core teacher Aaron Grossman said.
Grossman is one of the teachers assigned to train other teachers to accommodate the new standards. The new method requires teachers to boost the level of difficulty, ask their students to do closer readings of the text, and come up with their own answers and theories through discussion with their peers.
If that sounds familiar, that's because it is the same basic method that instructors use-- in college.
"If you think about your own college experience," Grossman said, "no college professor ever said to you, 'I am going to give you a lot of background, let's preview it, define a purpose, and give you some skills.' Instead, they said, 'Take this home and read it.'"
The idea is to encourage more independent thinking among students and give them more ownership over the material.
It is a result that Brown Elementary School teacher Corinn Cathcart has seen first-hand with her fourth graders. Common Core was implemented for K-8 in 2011. So, she gave it a try last school year. She gave her fourth graders a poem called "The New Colossus," by Emma Lazarus. Before Common Core, this level of material was given to eighth graders.
"Once they start getting into it," Cathcart said, "They really start to feed off of each other and they discover for themselves what's going on in the text as opposed to me telling them."
"Common Core will increase the rigor, and therefore the expectations," WCSD Chief Academic Officer Scott Bailey said. "What we've found, history would dictate, is that when you raise that bar, the students will rise to the occasion."
Cathcart added that for the students, it is not just about learning the material. It is about learning how to learn, so that when they graduate, they can problem-solve in any situation.
"[It's about] being able to be given something, any type of text, whether it's directions, whether it's anything, and being able to take it apart and figure it out," Cathcart said. "They need to be held to a higher expectation in order to be successful."
On the state level, boosting our education system is something Nevada needs to be successful. The Nevada Department of Education said that implementing the Common Core Standards will make the Silver State more appealing to parents and businesses.
"I think it's really exciting," NDOE Assistant Director Cindy Sharp said. "I think it's going to be really good for Nevada."
Common Core will have its own method of testing for progress, but it isn't replacing No Child Left Behind. Sharp said both systems will be in place together, but adding Common Core will allow the state to monitor student growth, instead of just proficiency.
NDOE plans to have Common Core fully implemented at all levels by 2015.