At first glance, Kristy Nacrelli’s kindergarten classroom at North View Elementary School might not seem much different from her classroom last year.

But on closer inspection, you’ll get to the core of the changes happening in kindergarten classrooms statewide this year.

The Common Core State Standards, that is.

Beginning this school year, kindergarten teachers statewide were asked to put aside the current standards — the Indiana Academic Standards — and use Common Core instead.

“The difference between the two (sets of standards) is huge,” Nacrelli said. And that difference could best be summed up in one word, according to Muncie Community Schools Director of Elementary Education Kathy Ray.

“Rigorous,” she said. “They are much more rigorous.”

For example, the addition and subtraction that Nacrelli’s class was slated to get to in April instead will come up in the curriculum in a few weeks.

“The kids start moving at 8:30 (a.m.) and they don’t come up for air until 2:30 (p.m.),” Nacrelli said.

Teachers such as Nacrelli can clearly see the difference between the two sets of standards. Her students can’t.

“And that’s probably for the best,” said Jennifer Scholtes, a kindergarten teacher at Mitchell Elementary School. “They don’t know any different.”

Next year will be more of the same. The state-mandated use of the Common Core standards will be used by more grade levels each year, with the goal of all grades moving to standards by 2014.

A faster pace

Kindergarten parent Monique Carter said she has definitely noticed the “accelerated pace” in the classroom.

“I am amazed at the work they are doing now,” she said. “It wasn’t like that when I was in school.”

Common Core was developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center), with help from educators, content experts, researchers, national organizations and community groups. The result, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, is a set of standards used in more than 40 states for K-12 students, designed to “align with college and work expectations,” **including rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills,” “build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards,” prepare students to “succeed in our global economy and society” and “be evidence and/or research-based.”**

Ray said teachers were informed about the new standards last spring. On the third day of this school year, she said, she met with all the kindergarten teachers to make sure “we were all on the same page” when it came to the new initiatives.

Ray said she does see advantages to the Common Core.

“It levels the playing field and allows for better mobility between states,” she said. “It also prepares our students for the global world.”

The sooner, the better, she added.

Current kindergartners are not only the first to use these standards, but they will also be the first students — as third-graders — to take the new PARCC assessments instead of ISTEP+, according to Schauna Findlay, director of curriculum and instruction for the Indiana Department of Education.

Feeling frantic

Pat Kennedy, president of the Muncie Teachers Association, said kindergarten teachers are feeling a “a little frantic” right now.

“They are on extremely tight schedules,” she said. “There is very little wiggle room. And there isn’t a natural ending to a lesson. That’s being dictated by the clock.”

The Common Core Standards are “cut and dry,” Nacrelli noted.

Everything is handed to teachers in 45-day increments, she said. “So you know within that 45 days what the expectations are,” she said.

The truth is, those expectations might be too high for some incoming students, Kennedy said. “Many students are already coming in at a disadvantage,” she said.

“Many children do not go to preschool and many children come in with very few skills,” Nacrelli agreed. “It’s then our job to get them there.”

Nacrelli said there are opportunities during the day to review material and catch students up in an effort to keep them from falling behind. And, Nacrelli noted, there are already 120 minutes of dedicated reading time each day.

The days of focusing on basic school skills throughout the year — standing in line, raising your hand, sharing with others — are over.

“We’ve got to get that taken care of within the first two weeks,” Nacrelli said.

All of this rigor, Kennedy said, could take a toll.

“The last thing we want is for children at this age to feel like failures,” she said. “School, for the most part, should be a pleasurable experience. Frustrating them now will only make it more difficult for them in the future.”

Bring the fun

So what is a teacher to do?

“You have to keep the fun in it,” Nacrelli said.

That means varying activities. Instead of spelling words out on paper, kids might do it in a song. They might do a dance that incorporates math problems.

“I try to make it hands-on as much as possible,” Scholtes said.

Help from parents doesn’t hurt either.

Teachers are keeping parents informed with weekly emails or newsletters. Many resources are available on the IDOE website (; that information is also available to parents, Ray said. also has made available tips for parents on how to help their kindergartners with the new standards, including reading with your child every day, **asking them to count groups of objects and identify shapes in the home** and having them tell you a story — with a beginning, middle and end — about his or her day at school.

And so far, it’s working.

I cannot believe how far my students have come,” Nacrelli said. “We’ve got kids reading and writing, starting sentences. Bless their hearts, they are really hanging in there.”

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Source: Muncie Star Press –