Seniors Chelsea Vanderlinde and Stacia Briard have spent their fall semesters student teaching in elementary classrooms.
As part of their student teaching, they are expected to construct lesson plans and teach those lessons to their students. For English-language arts and math, that means those lessons are based on the Common Core standards, rather than the previous South Dakota content standards.
According to South Dakota Common Core, the Common Core standards are specific to the content areas of English-language arts and mathematics. While not developed or mandated by the federal government, 45 of the 50 states have adopted the standards, which are designed to ensure that students are better prepared for college. South Dakota adopted the Common Core standards in November 2010, and they went into effect this fall.
But that doesn’t mean the University of South Dakota’s School of Education just started teaching its students about Common Core this year. Gary Zalud, chair of the Department of Curriculum & Instruction for the School of Education, said his department started incorporating the concept last year.
“Our faculty helped develop some of the teacher in-service training about Common Core,” Zalud said. “We’ve also sent other faculty members to those in service trainings and other workshops that the state of South Dakota has held.”
Professors are trained on the new standards, and Zalud said he expects more classes to focus more of their content on Common Core.
“Our faculty is responsive to the standards that are in place, and change some of the things that they’re teaching, so I’d expect that to start showing up more in their classes,” Zalud said. “If you look at any of our syllabi, it always shows the standard each lesson is responding to.”
The South Dakota Board of Regents requires no training on the Common Core standards for education majors. Instead, they made sure the professors were properly trained on the standards.
“(South Dakota’s) Department of Education developed some training for current teachers, and those programs had professors involved with that, so they were also trained and had direct experience with the standards,” said Sam Gingerich, vice president for academic affairs for the BOR.
Gingerich also said with the full year of student teaching that USD implemented for the first time this year, the BOR expects the school’s programs to prepare its students to teach in those classrooms.
Briard is student teaching in a fourth grade classroom at Dakota Valley Elementary School in North Sioux City, S.D., where the Common Core standards have been implemented for both English-language arts and math.
“My classes last year kind of used the Common Core standards, but we weren’t required to use them,” Briard said.
Fortunately, Briard said it was easy to adjust to using Common Core.
“You are given the objectives, so it’s similar to any other standards,” she said.
Vanderlinde is student teaching in a fifth grade classroom at Alcester-Hudson Elementary School in Alcester, S.D.
“For all the lesson plans we’re required to make for our classes, we’re required to use standards and we would use the Common Core standards for English-language arts and math,” Vanderlinde said. “We never went in-depth on them, but the transition from content standards to Common Core standards is not difficult.”
Vanderlinde said while she felt prepared to teach using the Common Core standards, she sees room for improvement from the School of Education.
“It’ll get better,” Vanderlinde said. “Now that they’re actually in effect, it’ll be easier for the university to teach how to use them.”
Now that the standards have officially been in use for half a semester, Vanderlinde and Briard do have differing views on whether they’re actually a positive for education.
“They’re a good idea, but realistically, they won’t work all over the country,” Briard said. “Each state is at a different level right now, so I can see them coming out with something else in five years.”
Vanderlinde likes the Common Core standards for the continuity they bring both teachers and students.
“The majority of the U.S. has adopted them, so if a teacher moves to another state or is talking to teachers from other states, you’re all teaching the same standards,” Vanderlinde said. “If students move, they aren’t going to be behind in a different state either.”
Vanderlinde said she is “a little uncertain” about the new Smarter Balance test, which will replace the old Dakota STEP standardized test. The Smarter Balance test will be taken on the computer.
“It’s a big change,” Vanderlinde said. “The problem with these small South Dakota schools is that they don’t necessarily have the technology that this test requires. Some of us teachers here at Alcester-Hudson practiced taking the tests, and I can say my students are far behind on the technology needed to be able to take the tests and the questions are extremely difficult. Fortunately this year is just a practice year for the test.”