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Even before state signed onto common core, city began to prep

Common standards have only just arrived on the national scene, but they are already making their way to the city’s schools.

On Monday, New York State officially committed to adopt national “common core” standards for what students should be expected to learn, which were released in their final form in June. But city officials have been laying the groundwork to introduce the standards to schools since May, and principals and some teachers started getting their feet wet this week.

That doesn’t mean that students will begin to see drastic changes in the lessons they’re taught and the tests they take this year, however. Instead, city officials said this week that their plan is to use next school year to let network leaders, principals and teachers determine how far their current teaching is from the new bar and figure out the best way forward.

By doing so, they’re hoping that schools can avoid the kind of nasty shock that comes from abrupt changes to testing standards that state officials are warning will happen this year as the state makes its tests more difficult to pass.

“What we want networks to do is help schools figure out what their entry point is,” said Josh Thomases, the city’s deputy chief schools officer. “Some schools may need to wade in; some schools will just need to dip their toes in.”

The state doesn’t plan to roll out the common standards until 2011-12, and new tests based on the standards won’t come until the spring of 2012.

But the city began to train district superintendents and network leaders on the common core in May. Over the next two months, groups of Department of Education staffers spent about a week examining how the new standards will change what teaching and student work will need to look like. And starting this week, those staff will be taking their message to groups of principals, assistant principals and some teachers.

All of the city’s principals will receive training this summer, Thomases said. And over the course of the school year, all teachers can expect to attend several professional development sessions that will introduce them to the new benchmarks.

City officials also expect about a fifth of their data inquiry teams — groups of teachers and administrators who examine student coursework and test scores to drive curriculum — to delve further into the standards.

In addition to that training, around 100 schools chose to participate in a common core pilot where they will receive extra funds for more intense work.

Some national proponents of the common core, including American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, have publicly worried that states that don’t receive Race to the Top funds will struggle to pay the costs of implementing the new standards. New York State officials are hoping to win a pot of that federal grant money to help them pay to write both new curriculum and new tests based on the standards.

For this school year, the city is paying for teachers’ training with state Title I funds. A DOE spokesman is checking to see how much the city expects to spend this year; I’ll update when I hear.

“The heart of that money is paying for teacher and administrators…to work on this themselves,” Thomases said. “The truth is that the common core is so recent that there are very few experts on it.”

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