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In Draft Forms, Education Standards Appear To Demand More

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Flickr Creative Commons

Oklahoma is writing new academic standards in math and English that in some ways go beyond the current standards and the now-repealed Common Core goals, according to a review of initial drafts by Oklahoma Watch.

The drafts show, for example, that elementary-school students would have to write research papers and learn the use and concepts of American currency. High school students would be expected to grasp the “whys” behind math formulas.

Standards outline what students should know at each stage of their education.  The two committees of state officials and instructors writing the standards also will attach examples of ways teachers can implement them.

The first drafts don’t appear to resemble Common Core State Standards, which the state adopted in 2010 and then repealed last year after a blizzard of protests. Critics claimed Common Core represented federal intrusion in education. That means Oklahoma may be one of the first states to repeal Common Core and draft completely new standards.

Indiana and South Carolina also repealed Common Core in 2014. Both were criticized for implementing new standards mirroring the repealed ones. Nationally, 43 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core.

State officials say the new standards will be tougher than Common Core or the current Priority Academic Student Skills standards. But it’s too early to tell how they will play out in the classroom.

“I’m personally very impressed with what I have seen,” said Cindy Koss, deputy superintendent for academic affairs and planning at the state Department of Education. “These (drafts) show the standards matter to teachers, and that these are going to be the best.”

The standards must be voted on by the Legislature next session and, if approved, they would likely go into effect for the 2016-2017 school year.

The writing committees, each comprised of about 20 state education officials, college professors and teachers, are basing their work partly on standards that are or were in place in Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia, officials said.

Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit journalism organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.
Oklahoma Watch
Oklahoma Watch is a nonprofit journalism organization that produces in-depth and investigative content on a range of public-policy issues facing the state. For more Oklahoma Watch content, go to www.oklahomawatch.org.

  Oklahoma Watch reviewed copies of the first drafts at the state Department of Education’s offices, but the department has refused to release copies. The department also refused to allow a reporter to make copies while reviewing the drafts. An Open Records Act request for the documents is still pending.

The drafted standards apply to students in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The state’s Common Core standards started in kindergarten, and the current PASS  standards start in first grade.

The standards are subject to change when a second draft comes out in early July and a final draft is released later this year.

The state is trying to craft standards that do more than set course expectations, Koss said.

“We want higher expectations for all students, but we also want stronger support for all students,” Koss said.  

That’s why a key difference in the first draft of the math and English standards is the inclusion of examples and references teachers can use to implement the standards in the classroom. Those examples are still being drafted, but will be attached to individual standards later.  References would link to studies and research on best practices for teachers.

The draft of math standards also calls for teaching students financial literacy over years, a requirement that’s not included in Common Core or PASS.

Elementary students start by sorting and identifying coins, and as they age, are required to add, subtract and count with currency.

In high school, students would be required to explain why they used a certain formula, whether in algebra or geometry. That requirement is not in PASS standards, but is a feature in Common Core.

Koss said that ensures students have a deeper understanding of math.

“It’s important to have fluency in math,” Koss said. “Students need to know when and how to use those formulas and practices.”

When it comes to English and reading, the drafted standards have a heavy focus on writing research-based papers early in elementary school.

The PASS standards do not address proper quotation and paraphrasing until seventh grade. Common Core does not mention quotations until fifth grade, and then only for quoting sections of reading passages.

The English standards draft pushes proper use of quotations and paraphrasing when writing research papers starting in fourth grade.

The standards also call for conducting interviews with experts and include a focus on how to safely use the Internet for research.

Committee members drafting the English standards said in an email students are capable of proper paraphrasing and quotation before fifth grade, and that working on the practice at a younger age will better prepare them for middle school.

The improper use of quotations and paraphrases was an issue on last year’s fifth-grade writing test.

The math and English standards both include references to using technology in the classroom, features not included in the state’s PASS or common core standards.

Technology includes the use of photos, videos, Internet and other multimedia resources in writing papers, conducting research or evaluating data, charts and graphs.

“With guidance and support, students will practice safe behaviors when communicating and interacting with others digitally,” according to a portion of the first-grade English standards.

While the drafts include examples and references for teachers, they will not include a list of curriculum such as textbooks. That decision will be left to individual school boards.

“The standards don’t tell teachers how to teach,” Koss said.

Schools that already purchased Common Core-aligned curriculum could continue to use that material if it aligns with the new standards.

In drawing on other standards, the committee of Education Department experts, university educators and school teachers turned to non-Common-Core standards in four states: Massachusetts’ past English standards; Minnesota’s and Texas’ current math standards; and Virginia’s current math and English standards.

The standards do not address testing. Committee members have said the state will need to focus on creating an assessment for the standards once they are complete.

The second draft of the standards will also be available at Engage OK, a conference for Oklahoma Teachers, on July 7 in downtown Oklahoma City, state education officials said. Computers will be set up for educators to view the standards, and sessions will be held to go over them.

Oklahoma Watch is a non-profit organization that produces in-depth and investigative journalism on important public-policy issues facing the state. Oklahoma Watch is non-partisan and strives to be balanced, fair, accurate and comprehensive. The reporting project collaborates on occasion with other news outlets. Topics of particular interest include poverty, education, health care, the young and the old, and the disadvantaged.
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