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West Contra Costa district pumps up writing instruction to align with Common Core Standards

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, August 29th, 2012 at 12:21 pm in Education, West Contra Costa school district.

Now that I have started occasionally covering the West Contra Costa school district, in addition to the Mt. Diablo district, I will begin posting messages from WCCUSD Superintendent Bruce Harter on my blog, so that readers can comment on what’s going on there.

Here’s Harter’s August message to the WCCUSD community, which explains how the district is boosting its writing instruction to be align with the state’s recently adopted Common Core Standards:

“August 2012
Writing and National Common Core Standards

On August 2, 2010 the California State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards. Educational standards describe what students should know and be able to do in each subject in each grade. In California, teachers, parents and educational experts designed the California version of these standards that have now been adopted in 45 states.

Since California had some of the nation’s most rigorous standards, we’ll be able to build on what we already do and the transition to the Common Core Standards won’t as challenging as in other states. While testing on the new standards won’t start until 2014-15, there’s a great deal to do to align the content of what students learn and how our teachers teach to the Common Core Standards. About 400 of our teachers will be involved in a week-long training on the Common Core early this month.

One area of significant change with the Common Core Standard is in writing. The new standards bring a deliberate shift toward a focus on nonfiction writing with much more emphasis on persuasive and informational/explanatory text types. “For students, writing is a key means of asserting and defending claims, showing what they know about a subject, and conveying what they have experienced, imagined, thought, and felt. To be college-and career-ready writers, students must take task, purpose, and audience into careful consideration, choosing words, information, structures, and formats deliberately.”

In early grades, students begin opinion writing that gradually moves toward demonstrating command of composing arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning and relevant evidence. By the time students are in 12th grade, 80% of the writing that students do will be in argument and informational/ explanatory text, mirroring what matters most for readiness in meeting the demands of college and real-world application.

For the last 11 years, we’ve been implementing the federal law, ‘No Child Left Behind’ which didn’t have nearly the emphasis on writing that we’re seeing in the Common Core Standards. So the increased requirements for writing will be a significant change in our schools. To make sure that our students can meet the new standards, we’ll be asking students to write more in their history, social studies, science and technical classes than we have in the past.

The implications of moving toward more writing means that we’ll be de-emphasizing the almost singular focus on the once-a-year testing that has come to dominate the conversation about what constitutes quality schools. And that’s good news for our students and teachers.

Bruce Harter

Do you agree with the state’s decision to adopt Common Core standards?

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