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February 2014

The Common Core State Standards

In September 2013, the District reported that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), a new and more rigorous set of standards in reading, writing, and math, had been adopted by New Hampshire and 44 other states. These new standards come with a new assessment process to measure student progress in meeting the standards.

As you may be aware, over the last decade every October New Hampshire students, including Nashua students, have been tested in meeting state standards through the NECAP tests in reading, writing, and math.  The last administration of NECAP in these subjects occurred in October of 2013.  (The NECAP test in science, administered in May of each year, will continue for the foreseeable future.)
 
A new test aligned to the CCSS will replace the current NECAP tests in reading, writing, and math.  Smarter Balanced, the new test, will assess student proficiency against the new standards in the same grade levels as the NECAP tests (grades 3-8 and grade 11), but will be administered in the spring of each year, beginning with the spring of 2015.
 
New Hampshire is one of forty-two states to join one of two assessment consortiums developing new assessments aligned with the CCSS.  Students will take Smarter Balanced online and, for New Hampshire students, Smarter Balanced will be adaptive, which means the computer program adjusts the difficulty of questions throughout the test based on student responses to questions.  For two years now the Nashua School District has been actively engaged in planning for these new assessments.  With iReady, the progress monitoring assessment tool teachers in grades K-9 now administer to students two or three times a year, students have already gained experience with adaptive online assessments.
 
In March some students will have the opportunity to take a field test to gain experience in taking Smarter Balanced.  This should provide valuable insights about the test to the District and the state.  Schools participating in the field test include Dr. Crisp and Mt. Pleasant (grades 3 & 4 at each school); Ledge Street (grades 3 & 5); New Searles (grades 4 & 5); Fairgrounds Middle (grade 6); and Pennichuck Middle (grade 6).  Prior to taking the field test parents of participating students will receive a letter providing further information and giving them the ability to opt-out of having their children take the test.
 
The Nashua School District is working to update curricula (courses of study) and improve instruction based on the CCSS so that our students reach greater depths of knowledge, understanding, and know-how. 
 
What will students be expected to know and be able to do under these new standards?
 The new CCSS specify the skills students need for reading, writing, speaking and listening (the English Language Arts standards), and for solving problems in math (the Mathematics standards).  Students will now be expected to: 
  • read and understand more challenging non-fiction texts and articles across content areas (such as social studies, math and science)
  • use evidence gathered from one text (or multiple texts) to support what they write and say
  • understand academic language and vocabulary
  • apply math problems in real-world settings with a conceptual understanding in how to solve the problems, and with procedural fluency
  • explain how to solve math problems and represent them in graphs, charts and tables
  • persevere in solving problems
 
The CCSS do not require specific curricula or text books for local school systems to use, nor do they direct teachers in how to instruct their students.  These decisions are left to the state, local, and classroom levels.  However, over time most school systems are beginning to develop curricula and purchase books and materials that align to the new standards.  In fact, many districts, including Nashua, have delayed purchasing new textbooks or other resources in recent years to assure they are making good investments in resources that support the CCSS.
 
Where can I learn more about CCSS?
There are many good websites providing information on the CCSS.  Links to some of those websites are provided below.
 
The New Hampshire Department of Education’s website has a variety of information and resources about the CCSS, and can be found at this link:  http://www.education.nh.gov/spotlight/ccss/index.htm
 
The Council of the Great City Schools has an excellent website outlining grade-level expectations for students (in both English and Spanish) at each grade level K – 8 and in high school, and can be found at this link:  http://www.cgcs.org/Page/261
 
The New York Department of Education has excellent resources for parents on their “Parent and Family Resources” page, including a “Toolkit for Parents” at the bottom of the page.  This page can be found at this link:  http://www.engageny.org/parent-and-family-resources
 
The complete unabridged set of CCSS can be found at www.corestandards.org
 
General information about Smarter Balanced, including sample questions and performance tasks, as well as practice tests, can be found at http://www.smarterbalanced.org
 
Are the CCSS a federal mandate?
The CCSS were developed through the sponsorship of the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.  They are not a federal mandate, although 45 states to date, including New Hampshire, have adopted them.