Baltimore County Public Schools students will face more testing as the school system transitions to the national Common Core State Standards as part of its regular curriculum.
"Last year was about awareness," said Roger Plunkett, assistant superintendent of the curriculum and instruction division. "Now, we're moving away from awareness to transitioning."
The system plans to spend the next couple of school years easing into Common Core before the standards are fully implemented.
Common Core is intended to create consistent educational standards across the country in English language arts and mathematics for grades kindergarten through 12, according to the initiative's website. It was organized by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers, and heavily championed by President Barack Obama. State participation is voluntary.
The Maryland State Department of Education voted to adopt the standards in June 2010, the department's website reads.
Plunkett said that under Common Core, students will study less topics overall but there will be an emphasis on skills deemed essential by the standards. He added that teachers will work closer together to ensure instruction of skills that can be applied across disciplines.
"There will be a greater focus on quality," he said.
And to make sure students are absorbing the skills, the school system is piloting a testing program at several schools across the district in the upcoming school year. The list of schools was not immediately available. Students at the schools will be tested several times throughout the year.
"It's important to measure a student's level throughout the year," Plunkett said.
The assistant superintendent said there will be an intervention model in the form of after school or summer school education to assist struggling students.
"We don't want to leave the child there," he said. "We need to help them become on or above grade level."
But, Plunkett added, the tests are not traditional.
"We have to get away from pencil-paper test but instead focus on performance based assessments...[Students] have a set of tasks that demonstrate the application of a skill," he said.
On Monday, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which creates the Common Core assessments, released prototypes of test items.
Despite the diverse educational needs and socioeconomic background of Baltimore County students, school board President Larry Schmidt said the board does have high expectations for all.
"No matter where the kids are from, we should have the same expectations," Schmidt said. "In our system, you have to recognize that it's difficult for some students. You have to be cognizant of that, but you don't say that those kids can't learn."
Earlier this month, the Utah state school board voted to opt out of Common Core program, according to The Huffington Post. The article notes that the state had concerns about being part of a "de facto national curriculum."
"It truly varies from state to state," said Plunkett, who added that the Baltimore County curriculum would mesh well with Common Core. "We have a strong curriculum, and we're ready for it."
Some of the efforts involved in preparing Baltimore County teachers for the change include new lesson plans, workshops hosted by the Maryland State Department of Education and faculty meetings.
At the school level, Principal Jean Wilson of in Parkville said her students and teachers are up to the task of adjusting to the new standards.
"Our teachers have been receptive to the new ideas from what I hear, and I'm sure the students will adjust," Wilson said. "Baltimore County has already had a standard of rigorous education."