New standards, devices to bring shift to Horry, S.C. this school year

vgrooms@thesunnews.comAugust 17, 2013 

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    S.C. Academic Standards |

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— Robin Hardwick’s seventh- and eighth-grade math students will have some structural changes in class when they return to Black Water Middle School Thursday.

“They’re going to see more of a blended classroom where we’re doing more rotations,” Hardwick said. “We’ll have a whole group overview, but then we’ll break up.”

Classes will be divided into groups, with some students working with the teacher, some collaborating with each other and others working independently with digital devices the school already has, Hardwick said. They also will learn new procedures and new routines with the hardware to prepare them for January, when every middle school in the district receives their own iPad to use at school.

“The culture of the district is going toward the idea of blended learning,” which combines face-to-face instruction with online activities, Hardwick said. “We feel like it’s very important they start their procedures and routines so they have an idea of how that’s going to work, and when they have their device, they’ll flow right into it.”

The new digital devices are part of Horry County Schools’ Personalized Digital Learning Initiative, which will provide a device to every student in 3rd through 12th grade during the next three years. The devices will allow teachers to customize learning and teach the 21st century skills students need to succeed as the state’s public schools transition this year to the Common Core State Standards.

“The Personalized Digital Learning initiative is probably one of the boldest and most progressive shifts the Horry County Schools has ever made,” said HCS Superintendent Cindy Elsberry. “The goal of PDL is to personalize learning for every single student. Digital delivery of content, blended with face-to-face learning with a quality teacher, will enable teachers to customize pathways for learning like we have never seen before.”

This will be the bridge year for all school districts in the state, which will fully implement the Common Core standards in 2014-15. The new standards, which will cover grades kindergarten through 12 in mathematics and English language arts, come with a more rigorous curriculum and provide a common set of standards across the 45 states, four territories and the District of Columbia where they have been adopted.

Educators tend to like Common Core because it has a common set of expectations, which is the rule in all high-performing countries in the world, said Cindy Ambrose, HCS chief academic officer. Many students today are transient, and it is hard on the kids when expectations change from state to state, she said.

HCS teachers have spent much of the summer making major revisions to the core curriculum to ensure it is rigorous and aligns with new assessments, and staff at each school is being trained in how to use the new information. Educators say students and parents will need to be patient, as they may experience some frustration with the coursework, which will require a higher level of thinking.

Students will be collaborating, providing evidence to back their conclusions, ramping up reading and writing across content areas - even math – and developing perseverance to dig for deeper knowledge of each subject. It won’t be enough to just arrive at an answer - they will have to show their thinking behind the answer, and some problems may not have one right or wrong answer. Teachers will use this bridge year to introduce new concepts and vocabulary, but also to help fill in anticipated learning gaps.

Elissa Blosser, who teaches at Forestbrook Middle School, and Hardwick were two of the eight middle school teachers who dissected their math standards and now are training other teachers with the new information. Their work will make it easier for teachers as they delve into their content areas and points out knowledge shifts between grade levels and time frames for teaching different sections.

“Ratios and proportions have shifted down [in Common Core] to sixth and seventh grade,” instead of being taught in eighth grade, said Blosser as an example, leaving rising eighth-graders with an information gap. Blosser told teachers during a staff development session Thursday that students must master the work in each grade level to keep pace with Common Core, and “if your students need [help], find a way to give it to them.”

“This is our year to make mistakes and to fill in those gaps,” Hardwick said.

Elsberry said the district will be very intentional this year in providing opportunities for students to practice responding to multi-response questions, open-ended questions, interdisciplinary problem-solving questions and electronic testing.

“If we can prepare our students to be test-ready, then the assessments will accurately measure what the students have learned,” she said.

Science and social studies will still be taught according to current state standards from 2005. Social studies requirements differ by state, Ambrose said, and South Carolina requires history to be taught in two grades.

New standards for science were delayed from last year in anticipation of the new Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed by leading researchers and scientists, including two Nobel laureates, said Martha Fout, HCS science learning specialist for sixth through 12th grade, but they were abandoned after pushback from the legislature. There will be new science standards implemented in 2014-15 that have some similarities to Next Generation, but the level of content has not been reduced to allow students to dig deeper into fewer areas, she said.

“Our science teachers are still very excited about having more reading and writing in all content areas and will make sure they’re supporting that,” Fout said.

English language arts is perfectly positioned to push literacy across curriculum in other areas, said Kay Sellers, an ELA instructional coach at Conway High School, who used “The Great Gatsby” as an example. The book can be studied as iconic American literature, she said, but within that, students can get a taste of history by learning about the 1920s era and move to nonfiction to study the life of its author, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Argumentative writing will be a new piece for students in high school ELA, along with more purposeful reading, she said, and across the board, teachers will be adding context to student learning to make concepts more relevant.

“It’s just good teaching, but kind of in a different package,” Sellers said, “and the district has given us the tools before we need them. I have friends in other districts who are freaking out.”

Staff development is helping teachers work through any apprehension, but the upcoming year represents a huge shift in education, and teachers are changing with it, Blosser said.

“Parents will have to be supportive of their child and the teachers, and there will be some struggle,” she said, “but part of the standards is teaching kids to persevere. A struggle can be productive.”

Contact VICKI GROOMS at 443-2401 or follow her at

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