Kelly Pietro, a mother of two, thanked the administrators and teachers for all of their hard work and for the presentation, but she also shared concerns over the manner in which the new standards are being pushed onto children all over the country.
"As a citizen, I feel this is socially irresponsible," she said. "To me, I now see it as the curriculum. This is new. This is not tried and true. So we feel our kids are guinea pigs in an experiment."
Some parents did not fully understand the new progress reports awarding "P"'s for "progressing" and "M"'s for meets the Common Core Standards, rather than the traditional A's, B's, C's, D's and F's that showed where students' performances ranked among their peers.
"It's putting everything in the middle, which is socialism," said Mike Monaco, a father of four.
However, Supt. of Schools James Agostine said it's not about dragging down the district's top performers. "These are higher standards than ever before," he said. "The difficulty is, if you look at these standards you would be hard pressed to find a standard you don't agree with."
While past changes in education had moved at a "glacial pace", the superintendent said changes made for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have happened very quickly over the past four years. This rapid pace has sometimes caused confusion among parents, students and even administrators and teachers.
The Monroe Parents Council invited Agostine and a panel of administrators to its monthly meeting to explain the new CCSS and testing with a question and answer period after the presentation.
The panel included Deputy Supt. John Battista; Kevin Welch, math instructional leader for grades 6-12; Cindy Brooker, math coordinator for K-5; Sheila Casinelli, director of instruction; Debbie Walls, English language arts coordinator for K-5; and Michael Crowley, English language arts coordinator for 6-12.
The presentation was video taped and will soon be available online and on Channel 17.
Apples to Apples
"I've been an educator for 30-plus years and it provides me with perspective," Agostine said. "I know what it was like before standards — and it wasn’t pretty. Actually it was, because I could do everything I wanted in my classes, and if I wanted to I could communicate across the hall to see if we were teaching the same standards."
Without standards, Agostine said he could have decided to teach earth science to eighth graders. But then students transferring to Monroe from Newtown or Oxford who already took earth science in seventh grade would end up taking it two years in a row.
The first uniform standards established were known as the Connecticut Framework. While reviewing curriculum to come in line with those standards, one thing stood out to Battista.
"Teachers liked teaching about dinosaurs, so it was taught in first, second and third grade," Battista recalled. "People were teaching what they liked and there were no standards. It was a turnaround in our district."
Now 45 states are adopting CCSS to get their share of $5 billion in federal funding, according to Agostine.
Prior to more universal standards, Battista said the rigor of standardized testing among different states yielded results that were beyond compare. For instance, he said 80% of students in Alabama were at goal with its own standards, but that number fell to 40% on "normative tests for the world".
When the Common Core Standards take effect in 2014-15, comparisons will be apples to apples. Battista said the CCSS is meant to make students both college and career ready.
Unpacking the New Standards
Since 2010, Monroe Public Schools has been preparing the district to meet CCSS by the 2014-15 school year. Casinelli said administrators participated in workshops, shared the information with teachers and reviewed all curriculum to determine what was aligned with the new standards and what changes needed to be made.
Testing is assessed by the Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Asesment Consortium (SBAC).
The SBAC test will be completely digital, so Agostine said all of Monroe's schools were made into wireless hubs. Students will take the test as a pilot program this year and the teachers already took it to see what their students will face.
"Our teachers and staff worked tirelessly," Agostine said.
On the tests, students will not only try to give the right answer to questions, they will explain how they got it.
Agostine said the CCSS is broken out into the standards, curriculum and the test. Each parent attending the presentation received booklets on Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and Language Arts for Grades K-5 and for Grades 6-12.
Cindy Booker said information sessions will be organized for parents on tools they can use to help their children with their homework.
Agostine said, "I hope that the information was helpful and eased some of the fears you may have had about the Common Core."