'These Are Higher Standards Than Ever Before'

Educators explain the new Common Core State Standards during the Monroe Parents Council's meeting.

Supt. of Schools James Agostine explains the new Common Core State Standards.
Supt. of Schools James Agostine explains the new Common Core State Standards.
Parents gathered inside the Masuk High School Media Center for the Monroe Parents Council's meeting Wednesday morning understood how school administrators have no choice but to align curriculum and testing with the Common Core State Standards, but several opposed the one size fits all approach.

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." 

Free Speech January 09, 2014 at 02:18 PM
lmf59 - you contradict yourself. Crown Royal is correct in calling you out. You claim your daughter did not learn anything but then claim she has a 4.0 at Masuk and in college. Why do you need to lie? Maybe because the truth does not align with your argument?
Kelly Pietro January 09, 2014 at 02:28 PM
Wow Bill. I wish my comments were fully documented. I guess that's my punishment for speaking while the press is present. To go on record: I agree with the new Common Core Standards. I disagree with how we (the US, not just Monroe) have been forced to adopt them so quickly and haphazardly. I commend our teachers and administration for working so tirelessly, dedicating themselves to getting us "there". For those of you who weren't there yesterday....the panel discussed the 3 main components of the new changes: 1. The new Common Core Standards: goals for students to be measured on, by grade level and by subject, developed by the Fed Gov. 2. Curriculum: Fed Gov did not provide States with any curriculum that would align with new Standards. States were left to fend for themselves in creating curriculum and purchasing material that would align with CC Standards. The text book industry was not prepared for this change and didn't have time to react properly. Many states outsourced this task. 3. SBAC & PARCC: two new standardized tests that States are now required to implement (States choose 1) in order to measure student/school/district success. CT has chosen the SBAC test which requires students to take on a computer. That the Fed Gov did not provide the proper resources ($ and otherwise), nor time for States to develop curriculum/industry to create text books, and then properly test the new curriculum to ensure student adoption/success.... That the Fed Gov did not provide $ for computers required to take the tests.... That the tests themselves are not yet "tried-and-true" means of measuring student learning.... That the Fed Gov is not taking into account the time required in order to teach/learn the computer skills required in order for students to successfully take the tests..... Yes, this is what I see as socially irresponsible. This is where I feel my child is part of a throw-caution-to-the-wind experiment. In 5 years we will have a new president with different beliefs about education, and everything will change again. In the mean time our kids and our teachers are scrambling to keep up with current politics. The Fed Gov has put us in a position where our local educators feel the need to defend their every move, and I feel bad for those in that position. I said that yesterday and thanked Jim, John and the rest of the panel. Again, for the record. Bill, your cropping and placement of my comments made me seem like a flag-waving banshee. I guess I was the sacrificial lamb....all in the name of journalism I guess.
Bill Bittar (Editor) January 09, 2014 at 03:41 PM
Kelly, I was trying to show how parents still have concerns over the CCSS, but also wrote how the parents understood how the district has to align the curriculum to the standards. However, you did say some positive things first, so I just prefaced your quote with some of it. I'm sorry I didn't do it initially.
Shannon Reilly Monaco January 09, 2014 at 03:50 PM
Bill, Mike felt the same way as Kelly. He also said very positive things and we feel very fortunate to have the awesome and dedicated teachers that we have here.
Bill Bittar (Editor) January 09, 2014 at 03:53 PM
I tried to convey that in the first paragraph, but I guess it wasn't enough.
TheSkalawag January 09, 2014 at 04:23 PM
Jimmy I think what Kirk was trying to convey is what is known as thinking outside the box. Not fixing it so that everyone can meet the goal.
Crown Royal January 09, 2014 at 04:33 PM
Kelly, Do you know if the PARCC test requires computers as well?
lmf59 January 09, 2014 at 05:44 PM
Free speech and Crown. Once again, you are not comprehending what is being said, unless it is a snarky validation for your "side". Let me try this again. Read it slowly so that you understand it. I did not say my daughter learned nothing. I actually said that she learned all that she was taught. What I and others are saying, is that the educational curriculum itself is sub standard, and does not include teaching the important foundations that we learned as young students years ago. I.e. Civics, American foundational history, etc. It allows calculators in early elementary grades instead of teaching the foundations of math. Someone, somewhere, determined that these teachings are obsolete. You may disagree with me that foundational American history is not important, but as Gerald said above, this generation is filled with ignorant and apathetic voters. That is shameful. Someone, somewhere, has decided that a one size fits all curriculum geared toward misleading testing scores is the way to go because the fed gov't holds state and local education hostage and will withhold funds if they do not comply. As I said previously, my family and close friends include a long line of educators. Without exception, they all cringe at common core. They just want to teach, without jumping through all the politically motivated hoops. They, out of anyone, know what the individual students in their classrooms need; they know that each student has his/her own unique strengths and weaknesses; that each student has his/her own learning style; that every student tests differently. Common Core is just one more step toward the ultimate goal of becoming a socialist government.
Kelly Pietro January 09, 2014 at 08:37 PM
Crown Royal, from what I understand both tests are computer based. To describe their differences: "Smarter Balanced assessments will use computer adaptive technology, while PARCC will use computerized assessments that are not adaptive." Source: http://www.smarterbalanced.org/resources-events/faqs/) Computer Adaptive Testing defined: "Based on student responses, the computer program adjusts the difficulty of questions throughout the assessment." Source: http://www.smarterbalanced.org/smarter-balanced-assessments/computer-adaptive-testing/) I hope this helps to answer your question.
Gerald M. Gaynor January 09, 2014 at 08:50 PM
I'm glad that I managed to spark a rather heated discussion of the state of education in the Town of Monroe, if not the nation. For those of us who seemingly were unable to grasp my "obsession" with the citizenship exam perhaps you need to look to your own educational deficiencies as well as those of your children. I have attended scores of naturalization ceremonies over the past thirty years and I have personally welcomed scores of hard-working, decent new citizens who embrace, rather than take for granted, the privilege of being an American citizen. I will take an individual with a balanced and civics-based education over a drone taught to pass a dumbed down "universal standards" test any day. We need an educated citizenry with some sense of what makes this the greatest nation in the history of the planet. Nations are judged as much by those seeking to enter them as by those seeking to escape them. Perhaps it is asking too much for our highly compensated educators to teach some national pride but is certainly not asking too much to demand that they teach our children the reasons we ought to be proud. I'm done with this thread.
Free Speech January 10, 2014 at 03:45 AM
Gerald - what portion of the CAPT do you feel is "dumbed down.?" Could you be more specific instead of making vague generalizations. Could those informed citizens you tout pass the CAPT? I am very proud of our Monroe students who did so well on the CAPT last year. Masuk has a lot to be proud of. Masuk was named a school of distinction by the state and has a large number of students who attend top level universities. Based on this evidence it seems you are the one who is uninformed.
Christine McNeil Montano January 10, 2014 at 08:19 AM
We moved to TX for a job 2 years ago. I am so happy TX has not signed on to use Common Core. I homeschool actually and here is an analysis from the rigorous writing composition curriculum company I use to teach my kids how to write. This illustrates how the grade 1 writing in CC is ridiculous. "If anyone takes the time to actually read the Common Core standards for writing, they will realize that most of it is vague, lacking concrete tasks and competencies that will actually help develop basic skills. Truly, a first grade writing standard should be something like this: "Student can copy short paragraphs of 3–5 sentences from poetry, scripture, or literature with accurate punctuation, capitalization, spelling, and formatting, with legible penmanship." That might actually be a beneficial goal for 6-year-olds. But what do we find? Non-specific jargon like this: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.1.1 Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic or name the book they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion, and provide some sense of closure. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.1.2 Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.1.3 Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure. Whoever wrote this has spent very little time nose-to-nose with first graders, but the strange thing is that the Grade 1 standards don't really sound much different from the Grade 4 standards: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.1a Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.1b Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.1c Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition). CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.1d Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented." from http://iew.com/help-support/resources/articles/concerns-about-common-core If you read CC I am sure there are issues in every subject in every grade. I also hold the opinion that an educational reform policy written with the head of the College Board (the testing company who will be paid per test) is problematic. Can you say conflict of interest? American kids in schools with CC are being used as customers. CB may be nonprofit but the CEO makes over $800K a year in salary. The further removed the lesson plan writers are from teaching the actual kids the more dicey it gets. This is another case of big government at work. It takes power away from local citizens and local government. I have always supported the political party who wants to provide the most power to the people. Who are you voting for? Did you vote for politicians in government who feel they know better than teachers and parents and local citizens how to run their lives? Think about it. (There is always the homeschool option! Connecticut has a small but effective homeschool population. In my CT circle some students are attending: Harvard, University of Notre Dame, Amherst, Swarthmore, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Loyola Merrimount, and Catholic University.
Christine McNeil Montano January 10, 2014 at 08:19 AM
None of my page breaks published. Sorry for the eye strain, blame Patch.
lmf59 January 10, 2014 at 08:37 AM
Free Speech and Crown- I am curious. Do either of you currently, or in the last 8-10 years, have/had children in the primary or secondary school system? An honest answer would be appreciated.
Crown Royal January 10, 2014 at 09:11 AM
Within that time frame, yes. I do not currently.
Lani January 10, 2014 at 09:13 AM
Fact checker, yes special education still needs to occur but gifted ed is not required. Also the tests are given to all. No differentiation.
Crown Royal January 10, 2014 at 09:15 AM
lmf, While I also agree a one-size fits all approach to teaching is not right, I do believe that there should be some way to grade or rate teachers and their effectiveness at teaching the material. This will allow us to rid the schools of lackluster teachers. While you might not agree with the testing as a means to that, there is no systematic other way that I can think of that would put all teachers on an even playing field.
Crown Royal January 10, 2014 at 09:19 AM
Kelly, Thank you for clarifying. I am glad we went with the adaptive test, as that is typical in most post-graduate entrance exams as well, so it likely has some research behind its effectiveness. Lani, the same test is given to all, but as Kelly has said, it is adaptive, so smarter children will be given progressively more difficult questions, until they answer incorrectly, then it goes down a level until they answer correctly again, and it is constantly adjusting itself. The opposite would be true for children in special education.
Lani January 10, 2014 at 09:20 AM
Kelly, you seem to be complaining about the lack of curricula for CCSS. Yet CCSS was 'sold' to states because it wasn't a national curriculum but only standards. This was supposed to allow teachers to meet standards in the ways best for their students. To attempt to retain local control over education. Now even the president of Connecticut's teacher's union seems to want a national curriculum. The exact opposite of what I am hearing from teachers themselves. And there are TONS of aligned curricula already. And much coming from the, surprise surprise, test developers. You can see it online. Although you may not like what you see. It is from these examples that many are concerned about biased political teaching.
Lani January 10, 2014 at 09:24 AM
My biggest question is who is paying for all this? Testing itself for the year end is estimated to jump from $5 per child to $22 per child. Not including computers, maintenance, internet access, etc. From what I have read this also doesn't include the near constant assessments on computers prior to said tests.
Lani January 10, 2014 at 09:41 AM
Crown Royal, do you understand how teachers are now being assessed? It is awful. It isn't just test scores, which is bad enough, since some kids don't test well or bright students get opted out by parents, etc. Many teachers won't have test scores to be judged on since not their subject area. So all teachers will be watched for teaching points in their lessons to assess effectiveness. First this sounds good until you realize they will get maybe one shot to squeeze everything in which isn't natural. Most would hit all over a period of lessons. And what if an off day? Never mind such a scripted lesson with no room to meet students where they are that day or teacher won't get in all the points needed to score well. And this may penalize the good teacher and reward the bad as they know when they will be watched. Oh and they are supposed to be seen more than once but numbers and time, never mind supervisors having other jobs to attend to, make that unlikely. But surely this ensures a large administrative staff. Anyhow, do you want your career determined in one day's performance and kid's scores on one test?
Shannon Reilly Monaco January 10, 2014 at 09:59 AM
The state of CT is now paying one million tax payer dollars to a public relations firm to 'sell' Common Core to its residents: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/news/article/Lecker-Tax-dollars-spent-to-mislead-parents-5096886.php
Crown Royal January 10, 2014 at 10:16 AM
Lani, The budget that was passed last year has enough $$ to ensure we get up-to-speed on all of the requirements, including the purchase of new computers for the CCSS. I don't think teachers should be evaluated while an educator sits in on the class either. I think it is pretty common for any employee to go above and beyond when their boss is standing over their shoulder. Perhaps some sort of video surveillance would be the best option. That way the teachers never know when they are truly being evaluated.
Crown Royal January 10, 2014 at 10:18 AM
Shannon, I believe it is quite common when any major change happens within the state for the government to allocate $$ towards educating the public on the changes. For instance when we made talking on cell phones while driving illegal, I would guess the state spent much more than just $1m on advertising through commercials, newspaper ads, and billboards on the awareness campaign.
Free Speech January 10, 2014 at 11:00 AM
Shannon - there seems to be a plethera of misinformation regarding the CCSS. For example, many people are confusing curriculum with the common core. What strands of the common core do you disagree with?
Lani January 10, 2014 at 11:06 AM
Crown Royal, you prefer constant video surveillance? Of all teachers? Besides violating privacy of students and teachers, who would pay for that? And if admin barely has time to do one or two sit ins a year, how would this be at all feasible? Although maybe you are okay adding even more administrators? Sigh. Truly the solution is putting an end to tenure and unions protecting the worst. It is easily sorted out then.
Lani January 10, 2014 at 11:10 AM
So how much did the state of Connecticut spend marketing No Child Left Behind to the public? We are not talking about a campaign included in a law change which requires behavior modification here.
zoo January 10, 2014 at 11:20 AM
The comments seem concerned with everything but the issue which really isn't much of an issue for Monroe. Basically students in Monroe are already performing/scoring well above the standard. Say the old minimum standard was to jump 4 feet but I am already jumping ten feet. You decide to change the standard to a new minimum of six feet. Rather daunting for those who have only been jumping three feet; but as I am still jumping ten feet, the "new" standard has no effect on me. And thus it is for the students in Monroe. You panic if you live in a poor performing district; you don't when you live in an already high performing district.
Lani January 10, 2014 at 11:30 AM
Zoo that isn't entirely correct. Have you looked at the assessments? The wording is different, the way children are to answer is different, the entire set up is different. Ask those whose children have already been doing smarter balance assessments how their children are performing. It isn't a pretty picture. To do well there will be lots of pre testing and teaching to the test. My nephew was taking these tests on the computer weekly (he is now in private school).
Crown Royal January 10, 2014 at 11:32 AM
Lani I completely agree regarding the unions. However I do not think that is likely to happen, especially in a pro-union state like CT. The cameras wouldn't violate privacy as there are already numerous cameras located on school premises. In the interest of saving money, perhaps a rolling camera that can be left in a room for a week, and turned on by the administration for a random period. Surely if these teachers know they are going to be reviewed, they prepare a solid lesson plan and go above and beyond. Adding some randomness and spontaneity to the mix might be a nice change. ......................................Zoo, I completely agree. It is almost a moot point when talking about Monroe.


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