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Half of California teachers not fully prepared to teach Common Core, top educator says

The president of the state Board of Education estimates that less than half of California's teachers are fully prepared to teach the new instructional standards known as the Common Core.

Michael Kirst, Stanford University professor emeritus of education and business administration and head of the state panel that sets policies followed by school districts, gave that assessment during an interview with KPCC last week at the university. 

"It requires a very different kind of classroom teaching," Kirst said of Common Core. "In education reform, the hardest thing to change is instruction within the classroom."

He believes it will take at least four years to fully roll out the new standards in state schools, and he called for patience.

"We're sending clear signals that we don't expect everybody to know all this and be able to do all of these things in the Common Core in the first year," he said. "Really, this is the beginning, in spring [2015], of a process that will roll out over a number of years."

Kirst said Common Core represents the first time that the state has aligned what it teaches to the colleges. Something had to change, he argues: 70 percent of students who went on to state community colleges needed remediation classes as well as 50 percent who entered California State University.

"Even students who got into these schools — they weren't winners. They got a ticket into remediation," he said.

Kirst tamped down expectation that Common Core instruction will close the achievement gap of minority groups in the short term.

"What it will do to close the gap is it will get many more pupils to a threshold that when they finish high school they are ready and prepared for college or career," he said. 

Increasingly, students need to apply knowledge to problem-solving rather than simply memorizing what they learn. He gives the analogy of a driver's test.

"It's one thing to pass a multiple-choice test. It's another thing when I take you out on the road and I see whether you stop, if you know how to pass, if you know how to drive safely," he said.

Kirst said within three months, parents will be getting new score reports that will compare the student is to an overall standard. It will also explain whether students have a better grasp of math concepts and procedures, problem solving, and modeling analysis, and can demonstrate their ability to support their math answers.

In English language arts, the reports will show if a student can investigate, analyze and present information (see example below).

After years of high-stakes testing, where a final score determined a lot, Kirst says the spring tests will not be used punitively. He said a year of scores is needed to establish a baseline, and future years scores will primarily be used to gauge growth and areas of student weakness.

Kirst cautioned against comparing California with New York in rolling out Common Core. He said New York is immediately evaluating its teachers based on the test scores in the initial year of implementation and it imposes consequences for schools that don't do well.

"We are doing a much more reasonable and sensible phase-in in that regard," he said. "So I think we are learning from the mistakes of other states."

In the first year, Kirst expects test scores will be the lowest that California will see. He said while the tests are meant to be taken on computers, parents can ask that their child take it with paper and pencil.

But he said part of what students need to learn is how to use a computer and taking the digital tests can help them do that.