Originally created 06/03/04

Teachers sort through standards



EDGEFIELD, S.C. - Eighth-grade history teacher Debbie Durham flips through her thick binder loaded with South Carolina standards she must teach her pupils each year.

She scrolls through the laundry list of items and points to one standard, noting: "That could be a year's course right there. There are just so many, and there isn't enough time to teach them all. It's very overwhelming."

The Edgefield County school district is trying to help Mrs. Durham, who teaches at Johnston-Edgefield-Trenton Middle School, and other teachers by holding a weeklong conference to help educators determine which standards are the most important so pupils can pass the Palmetto Achievement Challenge Test.

More educators are trying to fit their lesson plans to the state's test to give their pupils a better chance of passing. Gwen Talbert, a third-grade teacher at W.E. Parker Elementary School, said she even reads the standards to her children so they will understand why they have to learn certain concepts. For example, one standard requires that fifth-graders know how to multiply fractions.

Lisa Carbon, an associate for the Center for Performance Assessment, a group of school administrators offering teachers help with standards and assessment, spoke to about 40 area teachers Wednesday, helping them unravel and understand what each standard means and how to translate that to their pupils.

"We're teaching them how to make sense out of this stuff," she said. "The standards aren't written in a way that is clear for everyone, and there are teachers who interpret them in different ways."

David Mathis, the assistant superintendent for Edgefield County, arranged the conference. Before the discussion began, Mr. Mathis handed teachers a cartoon, which compares teaching the standards to drawing numbers in a lottery.

"I think that is how a lot of teachers feel," he said. "They don't get to see the test, and with so many standards - more than 100 - they don't have an idea of where to focus their efforts."

But Ms. Carbon said finding the "power standards," or the most important ones, would eliminate the problem.

"It's easier to focus on six or 10 standards than all 100, and that is what we are trying to do," she said.

"Once you teach the need-to-know standards, the nice-to-know standards will follow. You can't try to teach each standard; there just isn't enough time."

Reach Peter G. Gilchrist at (803) 648-1395 or peter.gilchrist@augustachronicle.com.