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New standards start to take shape

The Colorado Department of Education this week released draft content standards in four key subject areas, giving educators the first detailed look at the academic guidelines that eventually will drive new tests, curricula and perhaps teaching methods under the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids.

Draft standards for math; reading, writing and communicating; science, and music are now available for review. The department will hold open meetings around the state beginning May 18 and also take comments online.

Most of Colorado’s standards for subject areas haven’t been redone since 1994.

“The old standards were broad and they were vague … the standards were not a good guide” to what should be taught, said Jo O’Brien, assistant CDE commissioner on Thursday. She’s heading up the standards rewrite project.

More to the point, the 2008 CAP4K law requires that all standards be rewritten by the end of 2009, a key step towards the law’s other requirements for new state tests, better integration of the education system across all grades and alignment of curricula with the new standards and tests.

The new standards also are to include 21st century skills and what educators call “PWR” – postsecondary and workforce readiness. Those are the skills and knowledge every high school graduate is supposed to have to go on to college, technical training or work.

O’Brien outlined some of the broad differences between the old and new standards:

The old ones were numerous and focused on fact knowledge. There will be fewer new standards, and they will be focused on students gaining concepts and skills.

The old standards applied across groups of grade levels. The new standards will be specific to each grade level up to high school, which will have standards covering all four years.

“We’re thinking of mastery and concepts” rather than memorization of facts, she said. The standards are meant to define “what all students should know” when they finish high school.

(The four draft sets of standards are available online – see the link below.)

Each set of standards was drafted by a committee of teachers, other education experts, parents and business representatives. O’Brien said standards in Singapore, Finland, Massachusetts and Virginia were closely studied as good examples.

Two more sets of standards will be completed before the end of the year, including social studies and financial literacy in phase two and world languages, visual arts, physical education, and theater and dance in phase three.

All standards have to be approved by the State Board of Education by Dec. 15. The board gets its first look at the initial four sets next week.

By Dec. 15, 2010, the board has to adopt new tests to match the new standards. After that, school districts will have time to adjust curricula to and train teachers in the new system, with the first new tests given in 2012.

When the full CAP4K program is implemented, O’Brien said, “This will also require a new level of professional development … a different type of teaching and learning.”

Do your homework

CDE main standards review page
The four draft standards currently available
Minutes of standards subcommittee meetings
Current standards