Steven E. Gomes: Big changes coming for Merced schools

February 22, 2014 

4M9CLASS

First-grade teacher Carolyn Goehring uses Common Core methods at Raymond Case Elementary. "This is meant to build a deep understanding of mathematics and to prepare (students) to be successful in higher-level math," she says.

RANDALL BENTON — rpench@sacbee.com

This is a year of historic change for Merced County students.

Two of the major changes taking place are the implementation of the Common Core State Standards and how student academic achievement is measured. Merced County school districts will benefit under the new funding formula for schools, and this additional money will help provide students with a learning environment designed to give them the opportunity to be creative and critical thinkers and increase their communication and collaboration skills.

School districts, in concert with the community and staff, must develop a plan to ensure all students benefit from the increased funding.

Implementing just one of these new programs is quite an undertaking; implementing both simultaneously will be a lot of work for educators and all school employees.

On Thursday in Merced and Feb. 28 in Los Banos, the Merced County Office of Education will hold two events to inform our community about the many changes coming our way in education.

Common Core State Standards: In 2010, the California State Board of Education adopted the Common Core State Standards. The CCSS allow students to develop creativity and the ability to collaborate while emphasizing critical thinking and communication skills. CCSS are designed to prepare students to be college- and career-ready in reading, writing, speaking and listening, across all disciplines, including math. These skills are designed to enable students to address 21st-century challenges in a competitive global job market.

Smarter Balanced Assessments: Since students will now be taught a different way, and they will be tested a different way. The Smarter Balanced Assessments will replace the former California State Standards Test. The new assessments will go beyond multiple-choice questions to include extended response and technology-enhanced items, as well as performance tasks that allow students to demonstrate critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. These activities are meant to measure capacities such as depth of understanding, writing and research skills and complex analysis. This approach represents a significant improvement over traditional paper-and-pencil assessments, providing scores that are more accurate for all students.

Local Control Funding Formula: The Local Control Funding Formula is a historic shift in how California funds public schools. The new funding formula gives local school boards control over how to use funds and resources, instead of allocating funds for program and services the state determines are a priority. The new model specifically addresses students with greater needs, which bodes well for Merced County school districts.

Local Control and Accountability Plan: A vital component of the funding formula is the Local Control and Accountability Plan, which gives school districts the responsibility to develop a plan aligned with improving student academic achievement and closing achievement gaps. The plan must address certain priorities and districts must work with parents, educators, employees and the community to establish these plans. The strategy will describe the district’s overall vision for students, annual goals and specific actions the district will take to achieve those visions and goals.

Proposition 30: The Schools and Local Public Safety Protection Act of 2012 temporarily increases the state’s sales tax rate for all taxpayers and the personal income tax rates for upper-income taxpayers. School districts receive these tax dollars through a new Education Protection Account established by Proposition 30. Because voters were assured these taxpayer dollars would be spent for instructional purposes, full disclosure of school district expenditures is available to the public and I will be reporting how those funds were spent in Merced County.

We are experiencing a historic transition in Merced County education. Join me to hear more about these changes and the state of education in our county. Call my office at (209) 381-6601 to reserve your seat.

Gomes is Merced County superintendent of schools.

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