Izaskun E. Larraneta
Mystic — Education reform is touching every grade level in the state — from preschool through high school — because, increasingly, getting a job means going to college first.
"It is estimated in Connecticut that by 2018, 67 percent of jobs will require college or some other form of post-secondary higher education," state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor said. "It is not a severe exaggeration to say that college is the new high school."
Pryor, along with Dianna Roberge-Wentzell, chief academic officer for the state Department of Education, participated Friday in a panel discussion on education reform at the Quality Inn sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.
Pryor and Roberge-Wentzell gave a brief presentation on the new Common Core State Standards and how they are changing curriculum for students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Pryor said the goal of Common Core, which is being introduced in 45 states, including Connecticut, is to raise academic achievement and to make sure that students are ready for college and a career. But he also said that education reform is starting even earlier, with toddlers. A recent law put all early childhood education under a unified Office of Early Childhood.
The commissioner said preschool centers and other institutions that claim to teach preschool-aged children will be evaluated and rated, ensuring that children receive the best preparation prior to starting school.
"After all, early childhood education is education reform," Pryor said.
Under Common Core standards, teachers will be evaluated and given "meaningful feedback" aimed at helping performance for both educators and students, he said.
Pryor told the audience of chamber members that a new governance board for the technical schools has an emphasis on inviting the private sector to help improve relationships with business and industry.
Pryor said he is acutely aware that to make the new standards work will require time and support. This may mean extending the school day or year and creating Saturday academies, he added.
"We've got to do better by our young people by preparing them for college," he said. "Not just by entering college but by succeeding in college and completing it."
Pryor said a staggering 70 percent of students in community colleges require some remediation by the time they enroll because they hadn't acquired the skills needed to be successful.
Roberge-Wentzell said the new standards are intended to help connect classroom learning with real-world experiences and help prepare students for the global economy. She said the new education standards are based on proven techniques used in other countries, including Germany and Singapore, where children excel in subjects such as math.
The new math curriculum shifts from a broad array of topics to a more concentrated and in-depth approach that focuses on three or four key topics that are studied throughout the school year before students move on.
"This creates students who have a deep number sense and helps them understand how they arrive at answers," said Roberge-Wentzell. "We like to see more discussion than individual work."
In English Language Arts, the biggest change is the infusion of nonfiction into the curriculum. At the elementary level, where students read almost all fiction, the goal is to read 50 percent nonfiction. At the high school level, the nonfiction percentage is expected to be 70 percent.
Pryor said some school districts are voluntarily giving students a new computerized test developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that will assess how students are doing under the new Common Core standards.
The new test will replace the longstanding Connecticut Mastery and Connecticut Academic Performance tests. By next year, every district will have to use the Smarter Balanced assessment.