Bringing Common Core Standards to Uncommon Learners

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Teachers who work with gifted students and learning disabled students are bringing Common Core Standards to uncommon learners.

What makes Sarasota County unique is its two schools — Pine View, the lone Florida public school for gifted children, and Oak Park, a place for students with disabilities.

Throughout the country, the dialogue on Common Core has been one of uniformity. What a Florida fifth-grader is taught in math should be the same as what a fifth-grader in California learns: a similar set of standards for students, no matter where they live.

But what about schools that do not fit the traditional public school model? How can the Sarasota district’s two most distinct schools fit in with the standards that 45 states have approved?

Tailored to students

It’s after lunch in Kelly Vest’s math class at Pine View, but there is no post-food drowsiness here. Students are fist-bumping each other when they get a problem right or being melodramatic when they are wrong.

“What! What!” says Kate Haggarty, 11, as she throws her hands in the air.

Common Core standards says fifth-graders should understand volume and sixth-graders should know how to calculate surface area on geometric shapes.

Bringing Common Core Standards to Uncommon Learners

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Vest teaches both, because the curriculum is a year ahead of most fifth-grade classes.

“They’re getting both and they don’t even know it,” says Vest, a 15-year teacher at the Osprey school that has about 2,170 students in grades 2-12.

The Common Core standards for different grades are blended so that gifted students learn tougher material. Teachers tailor the standards to fit the students’ needs, some say.

“The standards themselves don’t change,” says Sue Meckler, who oversees curriculum at Sarasota County schools. “It’s just accelerated.”

Gifted students should spend more time on work that requires research and creative projects, said Mary Jane Tappen, Florida’s vice chancellor for standards and instructional support. On a science project, for example, they should ask deeper questions and try to prove scientific theories.

“The types of assignment they’re given are probably going to look different,” she said.

But there are plenty of X-factors for Pine View teachers. What about the child who is a brilliant writer but struggles with abstract fractions?

“Just because you’re gifted doesn’t mean you’re gifted in all areas,” says Vest, who routinely gives her students quick tests to measure what they understand.

Common Core establishes standards, and Vest may re-teach material her students are not grasping. Lesson plans can be flexible depending on how her students are doing.

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