Common Core dissected

Newport-Mesa Unified School District teachers and administrators spoke about the successes and struggles associated with implementing the new Common Core State Standards during a special board meeting Tuesday.

The district's teachers have been developing course curriculum in math and English-language arts for K-12 classes for the past two years. This year, the district's pilot year, is preparing them to fully launch Common Core lessons in 2014.

Now, teachers at the high school level are beginning to look into designing curriculum to adhere to the Common Core standards in science and social studies.

Cristen Rasmussen, who teaches science at Costa Mesa High School, said the team of teachers tasked with developing new science curriculum has been formed for about a month.

"The goal this year is to allow teachers to collaborate and familiarize them with the next generation of science standards," she said.

The state recently adopted the Common Core standards that apply to high school science. Middle school standards have not been adopted yet.

No science- or social studies-specific testing will be conducted until the 2016-17 school year, Rasmussen said.

Several teachers, including Mark Africano, a sixth-grade teacher at Newport Heights Elementary, spoke positively about utilizing Common Core lessons.

He said the new standards are "waking teachers up" after years of the same curriculum and revitalizing their excitement about teaching.

"We're able to use our creativity and our love of learning to teach kids what they're going to need in the 21st century," he said.

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Increased IT costs

While teachers are boasting success in the classroom, the district is attempting to prepare for the new Smarter Balanced computer tests by ramping up technology in schools.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 484 into law this month, paving the way for tests that align with the new standards and focus on critical thinking, interpretation and writing skills.

The law suspends most STAR tests to allow districts to transition to the California Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress assessments, set to go into effect in the 2014-15 school year, according to a California Department of Education news release.

This year, the majority of students will be assessed on computers through a system called Smarter Balanced, which customizes questions based on student performance and will involve more writing.

The district is working on adding more computers to schools and improving wireless access in classrooms. This will be necessary for testing and the new curriculum, which focus on integrating technology, said Alan Engard, director of information technology for the district.

Newport-Mesa has budgeted for nine additional computer labs this school year, he said.

Paul Reed, the district's deputy superintendent and chief business official, explained that technology upgrades are going to be a new expense for schools in the future.

"It's something that's going to need to be included in operating costs," he said.

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Doesn't add up

During public comment, Nicholas Dix, executive director of the Newport-Mesa Federation of Teachers, expressed concerns about the implementation of the new math curriculum.

The district recently purchased a method and its curriculum, called Swun Math, named after the teacher who designed it. Newport-Mesa plans to spend more than $900,000 this year on the new teaching method, according to budget documents.

The method encourages students to collaborate, and the lessons are focused on real-world applications of knowledge instead of a simple searching for an answer.

He said some teachers have become frustrated by the mistakes in the math lessons they've been provided, and issues related to Swun Math haven't been addressed by the district in a timely manner.

"I think it's frustrating for our teachers to present lessons and have them be incorrect," he said. "If we have a defective or faulty product, that needs to be remedied."

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