Over the past year many opinion articles and blog posts have debated the implementation of the Common Core. Some have said that the standards are too challenging or that change to our traditional way of teaching is unnecessary and even disruptive. At Bethpage, since the Common Core was passed nearly 4 years ago, we have kept our sights focused on each other and what we needed to do to improve learning in the classroom. And what are we seeing? Progress.
How do we know? In Bethpage, we spend most of our time working together to understand individual student growth and needs. Yes, just a few weeks ago we received our statewide assessment results for grades 3-8 and are invigorated by the gains our students have made. While there is more work to do, we are encouraged that many more math students across all of our schools have reached proficiency (including a one year 13% increase at one elementary school and the middle school is up 5% in English Language Arts). While this is an end of the year measure that is very helpful to us, it is the ongoing reflection, collaboration and planning done by staff that helps us focus on how our students’ skills and abilities can improve.
The teachers have been front and center in the planning--from the necessary supports for individual students to studying the challenges and identifying the resources that would be required for the staff to succeed. It is the teachers that stressed the need for professional development on the personalization of student learning. Continual collaboration between classroom teachers and staff help ensure that students of all academic abilities are being challenged, supported, and encouraged to perform and make progress.
“There is a stronger emphasis on individual student growth and not just grade level mastery in our schools,” explains Kramer Lane Elementary School Principal Kerri McCarthy. “Our focus has been to use data to pinpoint individual needs of students and address those needs through targeted instruction. These classroom activities are then skill-based and give students the opportunity to achieve success.”
Using data tools, teachers can identify specific strands within standards that may be challenging students. They use this information to clarify the needs of their students and more easily provide differentiated tasks in the same classroom using teacher-generated or other resources. Teachers then pinpoint specific strategies for some students and extension activities for others who are ready to move to a next level.
We believe the wisest investment has been in our teachers’ professional development. We have created our own Professional Development Academy in which most of the courses germinate from ideas brought forth by the teaching staff and are taught by our own teachers as well as those outside of the district. Our teachers requested time to review and develop curriculum together and even agreed to lengthen the school year by two full days so we could stagger professional development throughout the year and not lose valuable instructional days.
While we would be the first to say there is no one single answer for the success that we have experienced this last year at Bethpage, we give credit to the hard work and positive collaboration between our teachers and staff who have a laser-like focus on student’s growth. With the added commitment and support of our parents, students, and Board of Education trustees, I know that the foundation we need to bring our students to even higher levels of learning is in place and ready for even more gains this coming school year.
Terrence Clark is the Superintendent at Bethpage Union Free School District on Long Island, NY.