Part of the honor of being Colorado’s Teacher of the Year is the opportunity to be a voice for educational issues I am passionate about. I recently attended a Senate Education Committee hearing at the Colorado Capitol and gave my perspective on the Colorado Academic Standards, including the Common Core State Standards. The bill being heard was advocating for pausing implementation of our new standards. I wanted to show support for continued implementation of the Colorado Academic Standards because I believe they are the right step forward for our students. Here is the testimony I shared at the Capitol:
The wonderful thing about my role and teaching physical education is I teach lifelong skills and knowledge that affect our students’ every day. I teach communication skills, cooperative skills, problem solving skills, reading, writing and math skills on top of the fundamental skills of staying active and healthy. This knowledge will help make my students successful adults in our society.
Common Core State Standards are a unified set of standards for English language arts and mathematics created to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to prepare our students for college and careers. The standards reflect real world skills and knowledge, helping to make our students successful in the future. The Colorado Academic Standards provide standards in 10 content areas, two of which are blended with the Common Core. As a teacher I take these learning expectations and use them to design my own curriculum. For example, I do a vocabulary review halfway through my nine week curriculum. During this physical exercise my students get to practice short hand note taking skills. Students are still getting the physical activity they need and are also gaining more exposure to a skill that will enhance their education. I truly believe the more exposure a student has to essential common skills the more likely they will see the relevance and learn the skill.
With the Colorado Academic Standards guiding our curriculum, all teachers are working together toward the success of our students. Not only are we teaching our specific curriculum, but we are all teaching critical skills and knowledge like reading, writing and math. For example, the teachers in my school are great at collaborating with the language arts and math teachers. We find out where our students are struggling and then actively incorporate those skills into our classrooms. As a physical education teacher I found out our 6th graders struggle with graphing data so I began having them graph after fitness testing. This allowed students to see their progress in fitness over the quarter and gave them extra practice graphing. Our 7th graders struggle with composing complete sentences so all teachers in our school expect students to answer questions verbally and in writing in complete sentences. Students are getting more practice which helps teach the skill.
I believe the Colorado Academic Standards are working, are an improvement over past standards and are good for our students. Are they perfect? No. But what is perfection when you are setting guidelines for thousands and thousands of students? Our school has already seen tremendous growth in our students when it comes to English language arts and mathematics because all of the teachers are supporting the essential common skills in their lessons. With more exposure and practice our students are learning the skills.
Change is hard but I believe this change has been a beneficial change to ensure the success of our students. My question to those who are in doubt is, if we don’t use these more rigorous standards, what do we use? What learning expectations will we have to help guide teachers to teach what our students need to know to be college and career ready?
Additionally, the Colorado Department of Education has done a great job working with teachers across our state to create voluntary resources for this transition. Available on the CDE website are sample curriculums lined up with the content standards, examples of lesson plans and assessments for different grades and content areas. I’ve found these resources to be very helpful.
I also think these resources will have a huge impact on retaining teachers from novice to expert. New teachers coming into our profession have great guidelines to follow until they are confident in creating their own curriculum, lesson plans and tests. Also our expert teachers who have been teaching for many years can change their curriculums to keep up with the specific skills students need today, which can be very different from what students needed say ten years ago. The times are changing and I am very excited to see how students succeed with the Colorado Academic Standards in place.