With less than two years remaining until California students and educators are faced with a radically different curriculum and standardized testing system, school districts are getting the first round of funding to help steer the transition.
Sonoma County's school districts are to get $14 million, half of which arrived in district offices in recent weeks with the remainder expected in October.
The funds can be spent only on technology, professional development and materials related to the implementation of the new Common Core curriculum. The totals represent about $200 per student.
At Gravenstein School District in Sebastopol, part of the funding will cover once-a-month professional development sessions for teachers through February, with a primary focus on how math is taught in the new Common Core curriculum and how it differs from what has been taught and tested for years under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
"The focus is either language arts or math and I think that most people feel the biggest changes are in thinking differently about math," said Gravenstein Superintendent Linda LaMarre. "It's not just about computing. It's about 'Why did you get there and why does it make sense?'"
Gravenstein is to receive $142,200 to implement Common Core.
Schools are on pace to phase out No Child Left Behind, the testing and accountability system that requires 100 percent of students to be proficient or advanced in the core subjects by next spring. That goal is almost universally deemed unattainable.
On Wednesday, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson announced amendments to pending legislation that would suspend nearly all current Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program exams this spring and allow more schools to use a new test better aligned with the Common Core curriculum.
"It's time for a clean break from assessments that are out of date and out of sync with the work our schools are doing," Torlakson said in a statement. "It's simply wrong to expect schools to prepare our students for the future while continuing to ask them to use tests that are products of the past."
The bill, AB484 (Bonilla, D-Concord), is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
Without a change in law, No Child Left Behind remains in place and Common Core and the so-called Smarter Balanced testing system won't officially be in place until spring 2015.
Even with that two-year deadline, many districts are scrambling not only to get up to speed on the new curriculum, but to equip campuses with the technology required to administer the computer-driven Smarter Balanced tests.
"The point is, if we want to get the kids having more practice, we need to have more than just one computer lab," LaMarre said. "It's not just about administering the test, it's about having kids practice."
In the Cloverdale School District, the focus will be professional development and giving all 1,445 students access to computers. Washington School's computer lab was just updated for fifth through eighth graders but there is far less computer availability at Jefferson School's kindergarten through fourth grade campus, said Superintendent Steve Jorgensen.
"By 2014-15, we have to be ready to roll," Jorgensen said.
Cloverdale is on tap to receive $289,000.
The $622 million distributed to school districts across the state in the opening weeks of the school year is about half of the $1.25 billion approved. The final payment is expected in October.