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FWCS talks using state standards

– A presentation Monday sparked discussion and questions from Fort Wayne Community Schools board members on the district’s progress of implementing new state standards.

Natalie Nelson, academic services director, gave a presentation to the board about Indiana Common Core, the state’s adoption of national standards that all but a handful of states now follow. It included information on the expected timeline, changes and how the district is progressing.

At this time, the state expects all schools across the state to switch to the standards in the 2014-15 school year. Some grade levels and content areas have already made the switch or teach a combination of the old and new standards, Nelson said.

A bill before the Indiana Senate calls for the state to withdraw from its participation in the national set of standards and coordinating assessments.

During recent legislative testimony, FWCS board member Glenna Jehl spoke as a concerned citizen against the move. She also spoke out against the new set of standards Monday, saying there isn’t enough evidence to support that these standards will prepare students for college or career.

“We need more public discussion about if these (standards) are really going to benefit our students,” she said.

The new standards place an emphasis on students demonstrating they understand and can use skills and concepts, instead of simply learning them for a test, Nelson said.

Board member Lisa Olinger said she’s concerned about losing local control over curriculum decisions.

President Mark GiaQuinta countered that the district lost control when the state took over districts’ general funds, which mostly pay for teacher salaries and benefits.

Robinson said the standards are not a topic where the district should take a side because it’s a state and federally led initiative and without the funding from the state and federal governments the district couldn’t continue to operate.

Robinson said the district has been deliberate about its plans, ensuring that teachers have been involved in the process. She said whatever state legislators decide about the standards the district is moving forward as planned.

“Even if (Indiana Common Core) doesn’t move forward, we will still incorporate some things into whatever standards we do adopt,” she said.

Nelson and Robinson fielded specific questions about the new standards, specifically their difficulty.

“(They’re) going deeper than our (current) standards and making our standards more robust,” Robinson said. “Our intent is not to teach our kids less.”

Robinson emphasized these standards provide what the district must teach, not how it will teach it. She said the district expects teachers to be engaged in determining how they will implement the standards in their classrooms and what supports they need from the district.

“We have to trust our teachers to know the best way to teach,” she said.

Besides an emphasis on application, the new standards encourage reading informational and nonfiction texts, using arguments to prove understanding and teaching literacy through all subjects, Nelson said.

iPad minis bought

In other business Monday, the board approved the purchase of about 1,600 Apple iPad minis for use in sixth grade math and seventh grade language arts classrooms.

Middle School Area Administrator Rita Turflinger said the district chose the devices for ease of use and cost effectiveness.

The district will fund the $505,000 purchase through short-term, low-interest loans.

She said students will use the small computer tablets for a variety of projects and learning activities, including research and geographical mapping. About half the devices will be purchased immediately, with the remainder to be purchased this summer.

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