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updated: 1/26/2012 11:24 PM

Presentation in Elgin provides map for educators

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Local education leaders say a presentation by the group charged with developing assessments to measure the common core standards in Illinois provided a clearer picture of where districts need to go to prepare more students for college and the workplace.

Allison Jones and Doug Sovde from Achieve, the nonprofit education reform organization that oversees the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, addressed about 150 members of the Alliance for College Readiness at Elgin Community College Thursday. The alliance is made up of representatives from four of Elgin Community College's feeder districts, including Elgin Area District U-46, Community Unit District 300 and Central High School District 301. Representative from the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Community College Board and the Illinois Board of Higher Education also participated in a panel discussion.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers is a consortium of 26 states working to design and implement a common set of assessments for students from kindergarten through the 12th grade in math and English language arts.

The common core standards, which 44 states have adopted, will provide clear and consistent understanding for what students are expected to learn. The standards take effect in the 2014-2015 school year.

Jones said too often there is a disconnect between what students know when they leave high school and what they are expected to know once they enter postsecondary education, leading to students needing to take remedial courses.

"There really is this national commitment to improving educational outcomes," Jones said. "We want to increase the number of students that are prepared for success in college and careers. And what we are really trying to do is strengthen the student's ability to compete in the global economy.

"So what we are doing is supporting those by working individually as well as collectively to improve the academic standards and assessments. ... That's what the common core standards are about."

The assessment system will provide the tools needed to determine whether students are on track for postsecondary success starting in the third grade. The system will consist of two cumulative, required assessments designed to measure growth and determine whether students are ready for college or on track. In addition, two nonrequired assessments would provide feedback for instruction, interventions and professional development throughout the year, and a third noncumulative component would also assess students' reading and listening skills.

Greg Walker, assistant superintendent of secondary education in Elgin Area District U-46, said the presentation provided clarity on which areas are essential and what areas can be taken away.

"It will help us to understand our framework and determine what areas are critical," Walker said.

Ben Churchill, assistant superintendent of high school teaching and learning in Community Unit District 300, said the district now has a clearer focus in terms of how students will be measured.

"Now we can stop teaching what is not part of the common core standards now that we are aware of what the next generation of assessments look like," Churchill said. "I'm not saying we're teaching to the test, but that will drive what happens in the classroom. This gives us the direction to go on a daily basis."

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