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New rules make kindergarten count for more

Ohanian Comment: Who could have known: the ellipses as preeminent skill for 21st century learning? The Palm Beach County implementation of the Common Core Standards boggles the mind. Teaching kindergartners the ellipses is worthy of a Jon Stewart sketch, though what it really needs is Monty Python. . . or maybe an update of Abbott and Costello's 'Who's On First?'

The disjunction from reality is hard to grasp. I mean, think about it: just what material would kindergartners be abridging?"

The Common Core is a reality only because parents and teachers allow it to be. When will we stand up and shout "NO!" The ability to say know is a skill of much greater usefulness than Algebra. . . or even the ellipses.

By Allison Ross

Kindergarten is getting tougher this year.

Counting to 20 and dabbling in addition and subtraction aren't going to cut it anymore.

This year, the young students will be expected to count to 100, both by tens and by ones, and will need to be fluent in addition and subtraction through 5.

Starting this year, Palm Beach County and other Florida school districts are moving to adopt new, tougher standards beginning with its class of kindergartners.

The Common Core State Standards, proposed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, are national benchmarks in math and English created to have uniformity no matter where students attend public schools.

The majority of U.S. states, including Florida, have volunteered to sign on to these standards, which focus heavily on the skills needed to be prepared for the workforce and for college.

In Palm Beach County and many other Florida school districts, the Common Core State Standards are being phased in starting with kindergartners this year, following a proposed timeline from the state Department of Education.

Their reading skills will be assessed earlier in the school year, and expectations on their reading level will be higher than for previous years' kindergartners. There will be more focus on opinion writing, and on using computers and other digital tools to produce and publish writing.

"It's really a good thing," said Judith Klinek, the district's chief academic officer. She said that next school year first-graders also will be on the new national standards, and the year after that, second-graders will use those standards.

By 2014-2015, all grade levels will move to take new assessments under these Common Core Standards, according to information on the Florida Department of Education's website.

Liz Perlman, district director of curriculum at the school district, said the new curriculum will be harder, but will still be appropriate for kindergartners.

"It's not stuff we haven't already been doing," Perlman said. "We just need to be more focused."

That's the perspective teacher Christie Neise has about the new curriculum, as well. "We've been doing this already," the kindergarten teacher at Northmore Elementary in West Palm Beach said during training on the new curriculum Wednesday. "The focus will just have to be a little sharper."

For instance, the new Common Core standards expect kindergartners to know not only about periods and commas, but also about other punctuation like ellipses and quotation marks. "I've already been teaching that in my classroom," Neise said. "I feel comfortable with what we have to do here."

Mary Jane Tappen, a deputy chancellor with the state Department of Education, said the standards further narrow the number of concepts that need to be taught each grade level in comparison with Florida's current education guidelines, the Next Generation Sunshine State Standards. She said that means teachers will have more time to offer in-depth instruction on each concept.

Perlman said that those students who don't meet the higher bar under the Common Core standards will not necessarily be retained. Instead, those who are struggling will receive additional support, and can be promoted to first grade "with a progress monitoring plan that outlines the kind of extra support and attention that will be given to that student during the next school year to allow them time to master skills and develop academic strength."

According to the Common Core State Standards website, 44 states have voluntarily adopted the nationwide standards.

Proponents say the standards will help make the U.S. more competitive with other countries, such as Finland and China, which already have national standards.

Others have reservations about the move to Common Core standards.

Rita Solnet, a suburban Boca Raton mother and founder of Parents Across America, said she understands that Common Core is a reality for Florida now. But she worries about "launching any curriculum for any grade level which hasn't been tried, tested and tweaked," she said in an email.

— Allison Ross
Palm Beach Post


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