Valley school finds success with Common Core

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver
By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Common Core standards for our schools have been a hot topic lately with the newly elected superintendent of public instruction saying she wants to get rid of them.

And a lot of criticism has focused on the fact students can't just give an answer, they also have to explain how and why.

But one Valley school says it has found success by embracing Common Core.

Heritage Elementary fourth-grader Leemu Wesley says sometimes it can seem like a chore writing out every step in math class.

“We'll go step by step, and we'll underline the key words and circle the numbers," she explained, but added that it does help. "I can know if I got it wrong or right."

And her teacher, Mrs. Kneisel, says the reason students can get to the answer is because they do understand the steps.

“They are understanding processes, which is going to help them solving problems in the real world as well," she said.

On word problems, for example, the students learn which key words equal which mathematical functions.

And Deric English says the steps help him, even when he comes to a problem he hasn't seen before.

“It helps us, like, get through it for our AIMS and stuff, and we know what to do," he said.

Principal Justin Dye says that is what Common Core, or any other standard the state sets, is about -- helping students master a skill.

“And so we are really going into depth. We want the students to explain why. How did you get your answer? Not just memorize something and put it down, but the critical thinking is very important,“ he said.

Dye says the actual standards have not changed all that much, but students are now expected to give more in-depth answers than before.

“And with the Common Core, that is what they are having the students do," he said. "Not just bubble in answers, but bubble in answers and explain, how did you get there? Why did you get there?"

Dye says having students do that extra work was not originally an easy sell to parents.

“But we explain to parents why and that we are actually teaching their students extra skills," he said.

Mrs. Kneisel added, “I think it helps the parents when the kids come home with the steps written out, too, so they kind of understand, 'Oh, my child is understanding why they need to be doing this, so as a parent, I need to get on board.' “

As for curriculum, Dye says that is not dictated by Common Core.

“We are told we need to have the students master the standard at the end of the year; how we do it is our choice," he said.

But students and teachers do face benchmarks throughout the year to make sure they are on track.

“And the nice thing about it is it gives the teachers the 'when' and 'what' to teach, but it doesn't tell them 'how,' ” Dye said.

While Dye realizes Common Core is a political hot potato, he says having the standards at Heritage is paying off.

“We have jumped a couple of letter grades up," he said. "We are a 'B' now. Without a doubt, we are going to be an 'A' next year.“