Northside Middle School going back to basics for Common Core test prep

Lexington Two technology staffers finish installing a new Mac lab at Northside Middle School. Photo courtesy of NMS.

Lexington Two technology staffers finish installing a new Mac lab with 28 stations at Northside Middle School. Photo courtesy of NMS.

Full implementation of Common Core State Standards is on the horizon for schools around South Carolina. In order to ensure that its nearly 600 students have an easy transition to the new testing method and accountability levels, Northside Middle School is one campus that’s brushing up on the basics this year.

When reviewing CCSS for themselves, Principal Julia Kaczor and her team saw how much the assessments will differ when gauging a student’s knowledge in English language arts and math. As a result, Northside Middle has a brand-new computer applications course that all students will take before summer arrives again.

“We are finding that CCSS is more technology-based,” Kaczor explained. “The testing is all online so this new course will make our students more familiar and comfortable with how to navigate.”

Most might think that today’s kids are tech-savvy enough to handle the updated format coming in 2014-2015, but Kaczor said her teachers recognized that their students lack crucial how-to knowledge for fundamental programs. At the end of the nine-week computer applications course, however, students should have working knowledge of Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and everything in between.

“They know less about work-based programs and more about apps and games,” Kaczor said. “This course will review all the basic applications they’ll need.”

Making the learning more fun will be an additional 28 Mac stations that Lexington Two technology staffers finished installing Friday.

“The students are excited to have more technology,” Kaczor said.

The Mac platform also will assist teachers in improving English and language arts, or ELA, instruction with Achieve 3000. Northside Middle has been recognized on several occasions for being an exemplary writing school, and Kaczor feels the innovative tool, which instructs students at their own reading level to improve reading comprehension and analytical skills, will continue that success. A bigger emphasis on ELA in recent years already resulted in a 10-point jump in writing scores from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013.

“We went for the writing award last year and didn’t get it, but the attempt did get us refocused,” Kaczor said.

Students at Northside Middle will get another chance to improve their skills as the school implements a research paper assignment for all grades. Usually research papers don’t come into play until ninth grade, but Kaczor and the faculty think the project will be an added benefit for the transition to CCSS.

“Common Core has more writing and comprehension requirements so this will prepare them,” she said. “We will let students pick their own topic. If they like science, they can do that; or they can go the literary route.”

Putting aside advanced technology and the latest instructional tools, an active parent is one of the most important resources a teacher can have. Kaczor asked that parents make a bigger effort to keep up with what’s going on in their child’s classroom this year, especially as everyone will face an adjustment to CCSS next term.

“Parents can help us by staying involved and staying in the loop,” she said.

Northside Middle will continue to use Parent Connect to allow parents to see grades immediately after they’re posted.

From the first day, teachers do encourage the students themselves to take responsibility. The school’s career development facilitator has the vital job of helping students find an interest they can turn into a future career, and interest that can lead to students staying engaged as they grasp how essential their grades are to reaching that goal.

“Middle school sets the stage for high school,” Kaczor said. “Our students do work a little harder and are more motivated when they realize how close high school is and how important their education is.”

Outside the classroom, students and staff will continue making an impact on their local community. The school will bring back Hoops for Heart, a luncheon for veterans, and fundraisers that’ll allow students to adopt needy families this Christmas.

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