More than 5,000 Utah teachers will go back to class this summer to learn how to teach to new state academic standards that, in some cases, will go into effect starting in the fall.
Over the next six weeks, teachers will attend four-day training sessions across the state to learn how to teach to new Utah Common Core State Standards. The standards, which so far have been adopted by 44 states and U.S. territories, will change what students are expected to learn in each grade in math and language arts.
The standards will be phased in over the course of a few years in grades K-12. As the first part of the phase-in, sixth and ninth-graders will take classes starting this fall modeled on Common Core math standards. Most ninth-graders, who might normally take Algebra, will take a new course in the fall called Secondary Mathematics 1, or an honors version of that course, which will include concepts in algebra, geometry, statistics, and pre-calculus, said Brenda Hales, state associate superintendent.
Until now, each state developed its own standards, making comparisons difficult and causing problems for students who move between states. But the new Common Core will establish minimum standards for all states that adopt it. The idea behind the states-led initiative is to better prepare students for college and careers and to compete globally.
State Superintendent Larry Shumway said Monday the first day of training sessions in Moab and Vernal that the new standards will increase rigor in math and language arts.
And Lt. Gov. Greg Bell thanked lawmakers at a news conference Monday for helping to fund the training with $2 million. Lawmakers also put $1 million toward helping change state assessments to reflect the new standards, and the State Office of Education also contributed about $1 million toward the training, using money saved from cutting back on previous teacher trainings, said Hales.
It will be up to districts to decide whether to pay teachers for attending the sessions, Hales said. Many teachers were chosen by their districts to attend, and others volunteered, she said.
Bell said the money and training will "go a long way" toward a goal of the Governor's Education Excellence Commission and Utah's business community to have 66 percent of Utah adults earning postsecondary degrees or certificates by 2020 in order to meet future workforce needs.
Higher Education Commissioner William Sederburg said he expects the new standards will help more students graduate from college. He said now about half of Utah's public college and university students must take remedial math or English classes when they get to college.
"To have clarity in standards in math and English will be so helpful for us in reducing those [remediation] rates," Sederburg said. He said he expects they'll help "speed students through the higher ed process."
Mark Bouchard, chair of Prosperity 2020, an education project launched by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, said the results of adopting Common Core standards won't necessarily be obvious immediately, but will benefit Utah's workforce and economy for years to come.
Utah Teacher of the Year Gay Beck, who will attend one of the training sessions in about two weeks, said she's excited to participate.
She said it will be a "big task" for teachers to learn and implement the new standards but she's looking forward to the changes. In kindergarten, for example, which Beck teaches, children will be expected to work more on writing, she said.
"I think it will be a very good thing for our students, making them globally competitive for the 21st Century, starting in kindergarten," said Beck, who teaches at Highland Elementary School in Utah County.
Nationally, the standards are known as Common Core State Standards, but the Utah state school board voted last week to rename them the Utah Common Core State Standards.
Some state Senate Republicans expressed concern over the standards last legislative session, saying they worried the state was giving up local control by adopting them. But the controversy ultimately fizzled after education officials reiterated that they were developed as part of a states-led initiative and were optional.
State Board of Education chairwoman Debra Roberts said Monday the board decided to formally change the name to emphasize that Utah officials are making the standards the state's own.
"We wanted very much to emphasize the point that we did a close examination of the standards and made sure they were right for Utah," Roberts said.