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Common Core teaching method to improve test scores, collaborative education in Santa Ana

September 11, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Educators with Orange County's largest school district say they've adopted a new teaching philosophy that will help improve scores on state standardized tests.

But more importantly, Santa Ana's new superintendent says, students will have a better understanding of the subject matter because teachers aren't just "teaching to the test."

In Santa Ana classrooms, young students collaborate with each other and their teacher in order to arrive at an answer.

"Some people know more than you and some people know less. And we could mix together to find a solution," said 4th-grade student Jennifer Almanza.

That's the idea behind the Common Core approach, and it represents a major shift in the way teachers prepare their students for state standardized tests.

"The lesson we saw today: Do you think students are going to lose what they learned? Because it's something that they had to create and co-construct with a teacher based on questions that were asked that led to a discovery," said Thelma Melendez de Santa Ana, superintendent of schools, Santa Ana Unified School District.

Melendez took over as superintendent of the Santa Ana Unified School District last year. She served for two years as assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education under President Obama. And she's a strong proponent of the Common Core strategy.

"We do much better when we figure things out, and that's what we do with 21st-century skills. In jobs, we work together in teams and figure out solutions," said Melendez.

Part of this philosophical shift is to have teachers provide more collaborative work in hopes that students will become better critical thinkers.

"This is actually allowing teachers more freedom to actually practice the art of teaching again," said teaching coach Jennifer Wood.

Wood is one of a handful of teachers who have been selected to help their colleagues get a better understanding of the Common Core approach.

"Instead of bubbling things in, they get to support their answers and give their opinions using evidence, as these kids were using today," said Wood.

California adopted the Common Core standards in 2010, but the Santa Ana school district is one of the few that's actually implementing the program.

In 2005, only two of the district's 56 campuses were meeting the state's academic performance index. By last year, 18 campuses met the state's minimum. Melendez says the switch to Common Core means those numbers will continue to improve.

"The benchmark is going to be whether or not when students graduate in 12th grade, they can go straight into college without remediation, or a career, and being successful," said Melendez.

The state is expected to mandate the implementation of the Common Core strategy by some time next year.


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