With the new Common Core education standards now in effect, parents can expect several changes in their kids' school experience.
Jennifer Hernandez, a community mobilizer with the nonprofit Expect More Arizona, gave a presentation about the new standards on Nov. 14 at Williams Elementary-Middle School. According to the nonprofit's website, "Expect More Arizona is building engaged leadership and public commitment to ensure a world-class education system for all students."
The new Common Core standards, known in this state as Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, apply to English and math for grades kindergarten through 12.
"They are goals for what students need to know and be able to do in each grade and subject," Hernandez said. "Kids are learning different things at different places at different times."
Forty-six states, as well as the District of Columbia, have adopted similar standards, Hernandez said. However, she stressed that the standards are not a curriculum.
"It is still up to local school boards to determine how the standards will be implemented," she said.
The new standards emphasize critical thinking, problem solving and effective communication skills.
"They encourage more analysis and deeper understanding of concepts," Hernandez said.
She then outlined the changes parents may see in their kids' schoolwork in each subject under the new standards.
For the English and language arts portion of the standards, parents can expect their kids to start reading more non-fiction instead of mostly fiction at school. Non-fiction materials may include newspapers, academic research, journal articles, biographies and history books.
Students will also be required to use more evidence from texts in their writing and speaking.
"What the new standards aim to do for English and language arts is to help kids to read like investigators and write like reporters, so that they're actually citing their evidence as well as being able to really read investigatively and with a curious mind," Hernandez said.
Finally, students will have more regular practice with complex texts under the new standards.
Hernandez said parents can help their students with English and language arts through reading with them and asking them questions about what they read.
For the math portion of the standards, Hernandez said teachers will narrow and deepen their scope to build strong foundational knowledge.
"It's not about memorizing the multiplication table, but really ensuring that children have a deep understanding of what five times five is," Hernandez said. "So that if you're in the grocery store as a parent and you want to help them to understand that you can look at bananas, and maybe you've got five bunches of bananas with five bananas on them."
Teachers will also introduce math topics with more rigor, and those topics will then build on each other.
Math homework may ask students to write out how they got their answer or solve a problem multiple ways.
Hernandez said parents can help their students in math by showing them how to apply concepts to real life situations. For example, students can practice measurements and fractions when baking.
On the whole, the new standards also seek to link topics through different subject areas. For example, Hernandez said students may study the Dust Bowl in history class, read "The Grapes of Wrath" in English class, learn about the conditions that created the Dust Bowl in science class, and learn about the economy during that time in math class.
With the new standards in effect, Arizona is working to update the testing assessment it will use. Historically, the state has used Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS). However, the testing may change to include fewer multiple-choice questions and more fill in the blank questions, which require more critical thinking.
Hernandez recommended that parents communicate with their kids' teachers on a regular basis. She also recommended that parents have regular communication with their kids about school.
Instead of asking, "How was school today?" she said parents can ask, "What's the most exciting thing you learned in school today?" "What did you read about in class today?" or "How did you use math today?"
Overall, Hernandez said several groups must be involved in a child's academic success.
"I think the new standards are a good thing but it's not a silver bullet," Hernandez said. "It takes a strong school system, dedicated teachers, community to support, and parents."