Students go back to school across the nation

Kids across the nation will be tested in new ways in 2012-13 year

Published: Monday, Sept. 3 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

Rich and Emily Turpin help their daughter, Emma, unpack her bag after school at their home in Clearfield on Friday.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

CLEARFIELD — Nine-year-old Emma Turpin wore a white skirt with black butterflies to her fourth grade class at Antelope Elementary School in Clearfield on Friday, complemented by a black top, yellow earrings and a tote bag that looks like a purse.

"She's a girly girl," said Emma's mother, Emily Turpin. "She always has her hair done in curls, and she wants to look nice."

Antelope Elementary follows a year-round school schedule necessitated by rampant growth in the suburbs between Salt Lake City and Ogden, so Emma's school track started earlier this month. For her older brothers — Connor, 15, and Matthew, 12 — school opens on today, right after Labor Day.

The Turpin kids join 49.8 million students in public schools this year, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It will cost $571 billion to educate them, or $11,467 per pupil. School reforms in key areas mean kids across the nation will be taught and tested in new ways during the 2012-13 school year.

Changing landscape

As an ardent believer in school volunteerism, Emily Turpin is Antelope Elementary's PTA president, and she also lends her piano skills to accompany choir concerts at Clearfield Jr. High. Being involved at school helps her understand what school is like for her children and gives her a close-up view of school trends.

She is pleased by recent developments that have created new learning options in her children's public schools. Connor, who is sophomore class president at Clearfield High, made room in his school schedule for his student government class, and a released-time religious instruction class, by taking driver's education and health classes online last summer.

Utah's new Electronic High School, a digital delivery system for high school courses available to students throughout the year, made it possible. Connor's mom said the online classes he took worked out well, but she's not sure the format will work for all students or all subjects.

"You have to be really self-motivated,'" Emily Turpin said. "It puts a lot more responsibility on the students to read the material and study."

The biggest change for Matthew is that his classes in Clearfield Junior's honors program will be following the nation's Common Core State Standards for the first time, Turpin said.

An orientation meeting promised that under Common Core, classes would focus on life skills instead of rote problems. Turpin is concerned about the tougher math that track students will have to do, even though Matthew has always been a good student. Because the Common Core standards have not been aligned to the ACT and SAT tests that Matthew will take in a few years, she worries that he won't be properly prepared.

"Until you actually have a child in it, I don't know if you know what (Common Core curriculum) really means when it comes to day-to-day homework," she said. "It's one of my biggest apprehensions. We don't really know what that thing looks like."

Top five issues

The move to Common Core State Standards is one of the five biggest issues in education this year, according to the Council of State Governments. Forty-six states and the District of Columbia are implementing the standards and moving toward assessments that more accurately measure student progress as part of a national school reform effort to provide consistent accountability in U.S. schools.

The states that have not adopted the standards are Alaska, Texas, Nebraska and Virginia. (Minnesota approved the English language arts standards, but not the mathematics standards.)

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