"A great place to learn."
October 2012, Vol. 3: Issue 1
A  Note from the Superintendent

Dear Parent,

Welcome to the first edition of Classroom Connection for the 2012-2013 school year. 

This newsletter is designed to connect parents to their children's curriculum, particularly to current initiatives that are being introduced in the classrooms. We believe that this connection will not only make you better informed, but also help you in your efforts to support your child's learning and development. 

This edition is dedicated to the new Common Core standards, which are mandated by New York State and are getting much media attention these days.

We hope you find it illuminating and relevant.


Bill Donohue 

Common Core State Standards Initiative Mission Statement

The Common Core state standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that young people need for success in college and careers.

The Common Core Assessment

Tougher, More Relevant  


Before the Common Core, a fifth grade math assessment question might have asked for a simple addition of fractions. Ffor instance: How much sugar will Susan need for her apple pie recipe that calls for one third cup of sugar in the crust and one third cup in the filling?


The Common Core standard is much more challenging, requiring both procedural comprehension as well as conceptual knowledge.  


Here's what a fifth grade math problem will now look like:


Tito and Luis are stuffed with pizza! Tito ate one-fourth of a cheese pizza. Tito ate three-eighths of a pepperoni pizza. Tito ate one-half of a mushroom pizza. Luis ate five-eighths of a cheese pizza. Luis ate the other half of the mushroom pizza. All the pizzas were the same size. Tito says he ate more pizza than Luis because Luis did not eat any pepperoni pizza. Luis says they each ate the same amount of pizza. Who is correct?


(Answer: Luis; they both ate one and one eighth pizza.)  



Sample Question for 7th Grade ELA


In seventh grade ELA, a new assessment question will require students to write from complex texts, and to demonstrate their ability to write a coherent essay using textual evidence to support their ideas. 


This differs from the old assessments where students were required to identify information on the text in multiple choice or short answer formats.


Students would be read an excerpt from The Quest of the Silver Fleece, by W.E.B. Du Bois.


Questions might then be, How does the author use sound to establish the mood of the story? Use two details from the passage to support your answer," and "How does the music change the way the boy feels? Use two details frm the passage to support your answer.

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Demystifying the Common Core  

As the school year gets under way, parents of students in grades K - 8 will be hearing plenty of references to the "Common Core." It's been a preoccupation for school administrators across New York State for more than a year as they've worked with teachers to incorporate new Common Core standards into the existing curriculum.


"It's certainly been time consuming," says Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, Dr. Tim Kaltenecker. But he is confident that all students will be better off for the conversion.


New York is among 45 states to adopt the Common Core standards, which were developed across the United States as an initiative from the National Governors' Association to establish shared standards among states. The state requires that Common Core standards in English Language Arts and mathematics must be aligned with local school curricula in grades K-8 this year and grades 9-12 next year.


The mission of the Common Core is to establish standards that are internationally benchmarked, aligned with work and post-secondary education expectations, and inclusive of the higher order skills that students need.


The Common Core addresses math and English Language Arts specifically, with application across all disciplines. Gaps between the new standards and the existing curriculum in Byram Hills were identified in the summer of 2011 when teachers and administrators developed new units, which were piloted at various grade levels last year.


The district is now rolling out the new curricula. "Our teachers are well prepared for the increased level of rigor, and our students will be the better for it," says Dr. Kaltenecker, adding that "because of the existing high level of rigor in Byram Hills, the adjustment will not be as dramatic as it might be elsewhere."


So what does this mean for our students?


In the elementary schools the most noticeable change will be the inclusion of more reading and writing of non-fiction across all disciplines. In the past, 75 percent of K-5 reading material has been fiction; now half of all reading material must be non-fiction.


This means, for instance, that kindergarteners will read a text such as "A Tree Is a Plant", where before they might have read P. D. Eastman's "Are You My Mother?" Coman Hill Principal Peggy McInerney says the new requirement has been challenging because non-fiction texts are not as abundant as fiction, especially for early readers. "We're constantly looking for appropriate reading," she says.


She and Dr. Kaltenecker expect the change to help elevate reading levels because more non-fiction choices should enable teachers to engage more children. "Children will challenge themselves when they are really interested in the subject matter," says Dr. Kaltenecker.


The same principle is part of the Common Core's writing rubric, where expository, fact-based writing is emphasized over creative writing.


"Before, children were asked to do a lot of narrative writing, which can be hard if they haven't had many experiences to draw upon," says Mrs. McInerney. "Our job is to equip younger learners with good structured writing skills, and creative writing comes later."


"The Common Core is a fabulous standard," says Mrs. McInerney. "The approach to reading and writing is very linear, so that the children will have a thorough understanding of all different parts of speech and linguistics before moving on to different themes and genres," she explains.


A similar philosophy has been adopted in math where the Common Core standards are designed to develop deeper knowledge in fewer topics. The criticism of the old curriculum was that too many topics were covered at any one time. At the elementary level, the change means that "children will get a deep understanding of place value and number sense so they know how to apply it to other things like geometry, measurement and algebra," explains Principal McInerney.


The same is true for middle school students. "Fluency and memorization remain essential parts of mathematics with the Common Core standards, with emphasis on students understanding mathematical concepts and acquisition of fundamental reasoning habits," explains seventh grade math teacher Jill Berner.


One of the big changes is a focus on the application of knowledge: "Students need to believe that mathematics is sensible, meaningful, valuable, and doable. If implemented appropriately, the Common Core should help students develop a greater appreciation for mathematics and greater persistence and skill in handling mathematical challenges," she says.


While meaningful application has been incorporated into math classes for a number of years in Byram Hills, it will now be included in state assessments.


Noting that the Common Core standards are thorough and exemplary in many ways, Mrs. Berner admits that the change has been challenging for teachers. "Few dependable resources are currently available, so it's been challenging to develop new lessons, assignments, activities, and assessments," she says.


Dr. Kaltenecker applauds the district's teaching staff for absorbing all the changes at the same time as the state-imposed teacher evaluation changes, known as the APPR.


The district will be hosting a number of work sessions for parents to learn how they can help their children meet these more challenging standards.


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Our Mission

In an environment of mutual respect, the Byram Hills School District and

its community will provide students with the means, the knowledge, and
the opportunity to excel in order to become productive and responsible
citizens of the twenty-first century.

"A great place to learn."