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9/24/12 - National organization shines spotlight on MSU-based RCU

Mississippi is setting an example in education, and it's one other states should imitate, according to a national education reform organization.

Achieve Inc. recently cited Mississippi State University's Research and Curriculum Unit's work with the state Education Department as a partnership states should mimic in training career and technical education teachers how to incorporate English language arts and mathematics Common Core State Standards into their curriculum.

Achieve, which helped develop the CCSS, recently released its report, "Common Core State Standards & Career and Technical Education: Bridging the Divide between College and Career Readiness," available at www.achieve.org.

The document cited the RCU as "exemplary" in its efforts to modernize or develop instructional resources for teachers.

By setting the standard in connecting CTE with CCSS, the RCU is making itself a part of a national initiative to graduate more students from high school ready for college and career, the report stated.

"In the long term, we should have more students leaving high school knowing what they want to do," said Julie Jordan, RCU director. "Career and tech and academic classes are beginning to connect them to what's going to happen after they graduate. Getting a good job: That's the goal."

When commissioned in 2010 by the Mississippi Education Department to connect the CCSS to Mississippi's CTE courses, RCU leaders said they chose to focus on the three Rs, though not the traditional ones.

The RCU is working to improve classroom rigor, relevance and relationships, and based on Achieve's report, these three Rs are working.

The underlying goal of the CCSS, which have been adopted by 45 states, is to ensure that high school graduates are ready for college and careers in the 21st century global economy. Since reading and math are integral parts of CTE coursework, connecting the CCSS directly to CTE should improve student performance in both academic and CTE classrooms, according to the report.

"Academic and CTE teachers are brought in (by RCU) to collaborate on the process, allowing academic teachers to more easily see how CTE adds relevance to their own courses, as well as supports the CCSS in literacy and math," the report stated.

Betsey Smith, RCU curriculum manager, and Jordan agreed that CTE educators in Mississippi are learning to connect more rigorous standards with added relevance for students by building strong relationships with academic teachers.

Smith said the CCSS are being implemented throughout Mississippi, with kindergarten through fifth grades begun during the 2011-2012 academic year, sixth through eighth grades learning them during the fall semester, and ninth through12th grades will begin in fall 2013.

"We're asking school districts to make sure all our career and tech ed instructors are attending the same training as the academic teachers. That way they're all learning the same language. If they start hearing the same language and teaching with the same words, the classrooms will be reinforcing the same concepts," Smith explained.

Using a common language will reinforce concepts, Jordan said. Then, the unified coursework will support increased rigor across the curriculum, as well as suggest its relevance to students across the state.

The relationships formed from teacher trainings are strengthening partnerships among academic and CTE teachers, which will further reinforce the rigor and relevance of all the coursework Mississippi students are learning, she continued.

"This change is going to help all kids be successful and better prepared for college and careers, and the three Rs of rigor, relevance and relationships are a big part of it," she said.

The RCU is only beginning to accomplish its plan of embedding the CCSS into CTE coursework, Jordan and Smith agreed. More training lies ahead and collaborations with education stakeholders will continue.

As the CCSS become an integral part of classrooms across the state, Mississippi children should benefit.

Leah Barbour | University Relations

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