GCA and Common Core... The school's perspective.
Mrs. Amy Henderson, GCA Interim Lower School Principal

"Common Core" is a phrase often heard in educational circles, sometimes misunderstood, and occasionally confused. This blog post by Interim Lower School Principal, Mrs. Henderson, will clarify GCA's perspective on academic standards.

GCA’s Perspective on Common Core

Mrs. Amy Henderson, GCA Interim Lower School Principal

Education and academic standards are frequently discussed topics in our culture today. During any given week there are stories in the news discussing our current educational system and instructional practices. The term “Common Core” is heard frequently in the media. As parents attempt to sort through the vast amount of information out there, it is often difficult to determine the most valuable information while also filtering through misinformation that might be present. At GCA we believe in partnering with our families and always want to provide our families with as much information as possible about our academic programs. The following sections help to explain our academic standards at GCA and how they are developed.

What are academic standards?                                                           

Academic standards are the learning goals for what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade level. There are standards for each content area. Academic standards are not a curriculum but instead define the specific skills to be taught in each grade level. The standards do not define how a teacher should teach but lay out a clear plan of what skills need to be taught in each grade level. Teachers are encouraged to use their professional judgment to determine the best way to instruct students to meet the academic standards. Academic standards are critical in ensuring that there is a progression of skills from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Standards build upon what students learned the previous year. The standards lay out a clear plan of what needs to be mastered by the end of each grade to allow a student to be successful in the next grade level. One GCA middle school teacher described the standards document as a road map for her year with each individual standard representing a stop that she needs to make along the way during the school year. This analogy gives a perfect picture of the academic standards documents.

What is Common Core?

According to the Common Core website, “State education chiefs and governors in 48 states came together to develop the Common Core, a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Today, 42 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted and are working to implement the standards, which are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take credit bearing introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.”1 Common Core is simply a set of standards created to help align what students learn across states. The state of Tennessee opted to create their own set of academic standards instead of following the Common Core Standards.

How does GCA view Common Core?

GCA does not follow the Common Core standards.  At GCA we have the unique benefit of being able to create our own academic standards. We are not required to follow Tennessee State Standards or Common Core Standards. We have the opportunity to form our own academic standards to ensure that they match our mission and vision at GCA.

We do not create our standards without being aware of the standards that are being implemented in the public school systems such as Common Core and Tennessee State Standards. We believe that we need to be aware of various standards to ensure that we are preparing our students for their future after GCA. The Common Core Standards emphasize the importance of real world problem solving and critical thinking. We appreciate the value of these important skills and have made efforts to include them in our own GCA academic standards. We are not required to follow any one set of standards such as Common Core but are able to take positive aspects of many different standards documents to provide a rigorous, aligned, and strong set of academic standards for GCA.

How do we create our academic standards at GCA?

Our teachers are actively involved in the development of our GCA academic standards. Teams of teachers are formed for each content area. Teachers from all divisions are a part of the content area team to ensure that we work to align our standards across our K-12 campus. The teams of teachers are able to look at standards from other schools, other states, Tennessee, etc. to identity the best way to build our own academic standards. The teams take ownership of creating rigorous academic standards that ensure that a progression occurs across grade levels that allows students to be prepared for whatever college or career path that students take after graduation.

How does GCA benefit from creating our own academic standards?

There is no “perfect” set of academic standards. When looking at standards from many other schools, there are positives and negatives. At GCA, we are able to look at standards created by many different states and schools and then form our own standards that fit with who we are at GCA. By creating our own standards, we have the flexibility to consider what other schools do while choosing to create rigorous academic standards that align with a biblical worldview.

A benefit to creating our own academic standards is that we have the ability to constantly reflect on our standards and refine them. If we find that there are gaps in our standards or that students need to learn a skill in a different grade level than they currently are, we have the ability to make the change to our standards to make them best for our students. Our goal at GCA is for our content area curriculum committees to meet at the end of each school year to reflect on our standards, the progress that our students made that year, and to identify if any changes or adjustments need to be made. We want to always reflect and adjust to ensure that we are providing the best possible K-12 educational experience for our students in order to prepare them for whatever future plans God calls them to.

How are our curriculum/textbook choices made at GCA?

A great deal of thought and prayer goes into making decisions about what curriculum/textbook will be used for each content area at GCA. The same team of teachers that works on the academic standards has the opportunity to review a variety of curriculum/textbook resources to determine which would best match with our GCA academic standards. The team uses the standards as the basis for making the decision about which textbook could provide the most resources to teach those standards.

At GCA our textbook is only one resource that our teachers use to instruct their students. The academic standards act as a guide for their planning. Teachers have the ability to use the textbook when it helps them convey the academic standard, but they also have the freedom to choose from other resources. Teachers often use other books, activities, or resources to instruct students and are not limited to just the use of the textbook.

Just as you would not want to go to a doctor that relies on what they have done for the last 20 years without staying up to date on current research and best practice, GCA does not want to be a school that relies solely on what we have always done without staying up to date on the most current research about student learning, educational practice, and brain development. Great work has happened at GCA over the last 20 years and we are committed to always being a school that is learning and researching what is best for our students. We don't have to be and don't want to be a school that blindly follows every educational trend that cycles through. We do, however, want to be a school that keeps up with the most current educational research and practice. Just as medical research has discovered more effective strategies and treatments in the last 20 years, educational research has revealed more about the best strategies to help students learn and develop. We take our partnership with and our commitment to our families very seriously and we always want to offer the best possible Christian education to our students. 

1From www.corestandards.org