The State Board of Education on Wednesday adopted new national academic standards that will measure Connecticut students by the same benchmarks many other states use and better prepare them for college-level study, work skills and global competition.
The new K-12 standards will also increase the value of a Connecticut high school diploma and help reduce the number of students who need remedial help when they arrive at college, education leaders said.
They will also allow students to keep up with their studies even if they move from state to state and will make it easier for college admissions officers to compare applicants from different towns and even other states.
The new standards are a departure from Connecticut's tradition as a "local control" state that leaves curriculum standards and instructional programs up to local boards of education. It also breaks from the fundamental view that states have the right to set their own education policy.
"This is probably the most important shift our country has gone through in decades," state Education Commissioner Mark McQuillan said.
Eighty percent of the new standards mirror Connecticut's existing curriculum, but the new plan adds 200 more benchmarks in English language arts and 40 benchmarks in math designed to give Connecticut students a broader and deeper understanding of math concepts, language skills and literature.
First-graders,for example, will be expected to be able to distinguish shades of meaning between verbs such as glance, stare and glare. Fifth-graders will learn how to divide and multiply fractions.
The new English standards require students to develop a knowledge of literature and recommend specific reading, including classic myths and America's founding documents. Middle school students will learn probability and statistics, while high school students will apply mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues. The standard will apply to all students, regardless of their level of academic performance.
The standards were initiated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Participation is voluntary. So far, 20 other states have adopted the standards and 17 others are considering them.
The Obama administration favors the national standards and has given states an incentive to sign up. States who join get more points on their application for federal Race to the Top education reform money.
Higher Education Commissioner Michael Meotti, who serves as a member of the state Board of Education, welcomed the new benchmarks as a good starting point for improving Connecticut education. He predicted they will help address the alarming number of students who arrive at college so unprepared they must take remedial courses before they can enroll in freshman-level math or English courses.
As an example, 55 percent to 60 percent of students who enroll at Connecticut State University's four campuses and 80 percent of full-time community college students tested need remedial help, Meotti said.
The state Department of Education now plans to develop the benchmarks into a curriculum that local school boards can adopt, a process that is expected to take about a year. State education leaders also plan to train teachers, develop curriculum material and adopt new tests to go with the new standards.
Plans also call for eventually adopting national benchmarks for history, science and other academic subjects.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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