Beginning in the 2013-2014 school year, teachers across Arizona will begin adhering to the Arizona Common Core Standards (ACCS), a new set of mandated academic standards in English language arts and mathematics.

Arizona will join the coalition of the 46 other states that have demonstrated support for these standards, which are intended to provide consistent, clear performance benchmarks at each grade level in order to better prepare students for college and professional careers.

In forming the standards, feedback was considered from such educational organizations as the International Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Council of Teacher’s of English.

Also heavily influenced by evidence from top-performing states and countries, the ACCS was initiated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief of State School Officers, and approved by the Arizona State Board of Education on June 28, 2010. 

It was not long after that local school districts such as Marana and Amphitheater began adjusting for the coming changes, which are nationally standardized.

“We began work on this about two years ago,” said Marana Communications Director Tamara Crawley. “We began preparing to implement the standards at that time so that we would be fully prepared across the board, K-12, when the time came.”

Crawley said the standards were introduced in practice to kindergarten last school year, and continued through this school year in first grade. 

Marana teachers will be ready for full implementation next year when the standards go into effect.

“Teachers have dedicated over 6,900 combined hours of professional development training just over the summer months,” said Crawley. “This shows the commitment of our teachers on Common Core.”

Dan Johnson, principal of Marana’s Coyote Trail Elementary, said the implementation of Common Core has brought new life into the district, while also providing newfound convenience at the district, state, and national levels.

“This is a healthy change, and has really rejuvenated interest in the field of teaching,” said Johnson. “This brings a consistent message of learning where parents, students and staff no longer have to guess. Schools will all have the same standards, whether it’s someone moving here from across town, or from somewhere like Kansas or Texas. Parents and students no longer have to worry about where they get plugged in.”

International students would obviously find the new standards unfamiliar.

“First grade in the United States is probably not the same thing as first grade in Singapore,” said Johnson.

The Amphitheater School District was also quick to action following the 2010 Common ACCS approval, training teachers and principals and hosting workshops in preparation. The district began applying the standards in third, sixth, and ninth grades to prepare for full implementation in the coming year.

The transition has come with some challenges for all districts, and will take some fine-tuning along the way.

“The difficulty is that the Common Core Standards are coming hard on the heels of the Arizona State Standards,” said Monica Nelson, Amphitheater’s associate superintendent for school operations. “In spring 2014, and through, our children will be assessed on Common Core Standards. There’s a bit of a challenge in that we want to make sure our students are fairly assessed while also recognizing that in 2014, a different set of content will be required.”

Johnson said that without changing the standards themselves, tweaks would be necessary along the way to determine the most effective strategy of meeting the new expectations. 

“We will keep what works and throw out what doesn’t work,” he said.

The Common Core assessments will apply to grades three through 12, replacing the current AIMS testing. The assessments will begin application in the 2014-2015 school year.

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