Our Savior’s Lutheran School: Teaching Students Critical Thinking Skills

By: Our Savior's Lutheran School
Nov. 25, 2014 - PRLog -- By Sheila Carmody
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When John March married, he moved to Toronto, Canada, where he worked as a school teacher and, while he was there, learned why student test scores in the U.S. lagged behind their counterparts in other countries.

Ten years later, he’s back and he’s bringing what he learned with him.

March, who taught sixth grade in Ontario, Canada, one of the highest performing school districts in the world, is leading the implementation of Common Core Standards as Principal of Our Savior’s Lutheran School, a pre-K to 8 Christian school on Mountain View Avenue off Central Avenue in Albany. He believes the largely misunderstood set of learning standards, called Common Core, will help improve U.S. public and private schools.

The McKinsey group, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris, the National Center on Education and the Economy in Washington, D.C., and Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance have all done recent case studies on Ontario's education system and concluded that it is one of the most improved and highest performing in the world. Ontario, where March taught, also scored among the highest achievers on the international TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) test.


March and Our Savior's Lutheran School teachers started implementing the new Common Core standards at Our Savior's Lutheran School three years ago.

"The new standards Standards haven’t changed Our Savior’s educational program that much because academic excellence has always been the core of the school’s mission, March said, but education is evolving and Our Savior’s Lutheran School is evolving along with it."

The Common Core is about teaching students higher order thinking skills. ”We’re moving away from rote learning where the teacher stands at the front of the room and spews out information that students spew back,” March said. “It’s teaching students the skills they need in order to think for themselves.”

Preliminary results show the Christian school is succeeding, outperforming public schools on state tests. Our Savior’s students performed 17 percentage points higher than the state’s average on ELA and four percentage points higher in math on the most recent state tests.

March, who was brought on as the school’s Principal in 2011, often gets questions from parents who are suspicious of the new standards. The way he explains it is: “The Common Core to us is like the floor. It’s not the walls, the roof and the room. We choose the curriculum, we choose the materials and we incorporate the Bible into that. The Common Core is not the educational program at Our Savior’s Lutheran school; it’s a roadmap.

“For example, one of the standards in English Language Arts (ELA) states that students need to be able to analyze a poem. However we do that – whether we’re using scripture or secular poems – it’s just a guideline,” March said. “It isn’t telling me I have to use certain materials. It’s just telling me that’s the standard you have to meet. However you do it is your choice.”

March and the teachers at Our Savior’s Lutheran School began the process of implementing the Common Core standards in 2011-12, and they started by reviewing the standards. They also obtained supplemental workbooks that were based on the Common Core.

“It gave the teachers an idea of what the standards were and what activities and lessons they could do to help them transition from the way they were teaching reading to a more individualized method - an ongoing improvement initiated prior to the recent work on the Common Core,” March said.

“We used some external resources but most of it was just me finding resources and doing a lot of development in faculty meetings and during professional development days,” March said. “We did have someone come in and help and I’ve used her for the last couple of years. She’s a resource who helps me. I also use resources provided by the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development to stay on top of all of this.”

The new standards prompted March and the teachers at Our Savior’s Lutheran School to review seven or eight different new math programs, and last year they adopted a curriculum modeled on the Singapore Math program.

“The state has linked the standards to data analysis so I can pull up a student in third grade in ELA and it will tell me how many questions link to standard one and how well every student did with that standard,” March said. “If they’re missing all the questions in the standards – for example, fractions in third grade – we know that’s something we have to work on in the coming year.

One of the benefits of being a private school is Our Savior’s Lutheran School isn’t required to evaluate teachers based on the test, a move that has complicated the implementation of the new standards at public schools.

Our Savior’s Lutheran School teachers are evaluated using a formal process as well as an informal process which includes an app called Classroom Walkthrough that allows March to informally evaluate regularly throughout the year, March said.

One of the challenges this year for March and teachers, especially middle school teachers, is Common Core Algebra. Last year, they continued with the former curriculum because the State Education Department left it as an option. But this year the Algebra Regents exam is based on the new standards.

“I do have to say looking at the materials, New York has done a very good job with preparing teachers and schools and providing materials. If you conduct a google search of some other states and what they’re doing with the common core, a lot of them refer to Engage NY, the NY State Education Common Core website so there are definitely some good resources that New York State has provided.”

Our Savior’s Lutheran School is in year three of implementing the Common Core standards and is committed to providing a quality education. With its small student body, Our Savior’s is able to provide a highly personalized approach to instruction. Our Savior’s also fosters a close relationship between the home and the school by encouraging parental involvement in school activities.

Our Savior’s Lutheran School is accredited by the National Lutheran Schools Accreditation Commission and has also received accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Elementary Schools.To maintain this dual accreditation, Our Savior’s is engaged in on-going school improvement. Test results from regularly administered achievement tests and state mandated tests have consistently reflected high levels of performance by students at Our Savior’s Lutheran School.

For more information on Our Savior's Lutheran School, contact the school by phone (518) 459-2273 or email contactus@oursaviors.com

Sheila Carmody
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Tags:Christian School, Middle School, Common Core
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