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State superintendent provides example of new core standards

By Jennifer Johnson

Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Several Lake Agassiz Elementary students sat quietly on stage Tuesday inside the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks as the state’s highest education official read a story about Charlie, a ranch dog, and his friend, Suzie.

“Suzie, unfortunately, doesn’t have the paws I have, or the droopy eyes, or the floppy skin,” Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said.

Although adults in the audience may not have found the story that interesting, the fourth-graders clearly paid attention — and they could prove it.

Baesler quizzed them afterward on the basics (“Who was the main character in the story?”) to more complex concepts, such as providing reasons why the book was fiction. The whole class was able to show they understood the book.

The teaching method Baesler used was an example of what teachers are doing in North Dakota classrooms this year as they implement Common Core State Standards in math and English, she said. These were chosen by state teachers and community members to help students better prepare for college, she said.

Baesler spoke about this for the University of North Dakota’s “Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere” lecture, the first in a series of talks the College of Education and Human Development plans to hold. Each will be free to the public and streamed online.

North Dakota, which implemented Common Core this fall, is among 44 other states and the District of Columbia that have so far adopted the standards.

The standards cause a change in teacher instruction and higher academic expectations of students, Baesler said.

With much confusion surrounding the standards, Baesler emphasized that teachers still choose the curriculum, but change the way they teach it. Instead of having students simply memorize information for a moment and move on, they’re now required to prove they understand, she said.  

“Students are required to provide evidence of their beliefs, evidence for their statements,” she said. “It’s not enough to simply know facts — we must apply them.”

Students will also be learning a smaller amount of information but more thoroughly, she said.

After years of hearing that students weren’t ready for their first year college classes, state education leaders looked at data and agreed something needed to be changed, she said. There was a huge gap between what should be known and what students actually learned, she said.

“For the first time in history, we did things differently,” she said.

Rather than asking elementary teachers what students should know by the end of each year, and work their way up to high school, they started with 12th grade instructors and worked their way down, she said.

Students will be tested on their knowledge with a new state assessment in 2015. While the implementation of the standards will continue next year, and it’s “not a silver bullet,” Baesler said she’s confident about the long-term results.

The next UND lecture will be in February and feature speaker Audrey Trainor, an assistant professor in special education at the University of Wisconsin. Her talk is titled, “Meeting the needs of rural students with learning and emotional disabilities.”

Jennifer Johnson

Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit 

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