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For the past 10 years, I have taught Pre-Algebra and Algebra at the eighth grade level. For the last two years, I have also been teaching a section of Advanced Algebra 1, a high school level course. Our curriculum map and standards have followed the Illinois State Standards for longer than my teaching career. However, last year we incorporated the Common Core Standards (CCS) for 8th grade mathematics into our local curriculum map and guide. This is a major change that will face many teachers and students in the next several years.
Before I explain my views of what I believe is being done incorrectly with the implementation of the Common Core, let’s explore a few questions that some may have.
- What is the difference between the CCS and the various state standards?
The focus of the CCS shifts to fewer concepts, but covering them more in-depth to provide the students with a deeper understanding that will lead to the application of the concepts. Many state standards were built upon a large number of concepts being covered, thus leading to students having only general knowledge of the skills necessary to apply the concepts to the real-world. The CCS are rigorous and help to provide students with conceptual understanding. In future articles, I will cover each grade level, the implications for teachers, and resources to assist teachers to help provide a better understanding of the CCS.
- How will the CCS be tested?
Most states currently have their own standardized test that is taken throughout their state. In Illinois, we take the ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test). However, this will come to an end in 2014 and the PARCC test will take over. Many states, 23 in total, have already agreed to take the PARCC test as their statewide standardized test. This test is a very complex test. It is NOT multiple choice and requires a great deal of application of various topics. Students are asked multi-step questions that incorporate more than one mathematical concept. Taking the test on a computer, they are asked to fill in the blank or drag and drop various information to complete the problems. For more information, please see the example questions that are posted here.
Now, let me state that I am a fan of the CCS, and have been since states began adopting them in 2010. I have watched the states, one by one, agree to these standards. To date, 45 states have adopted the CCS to be implemented by the year 2014. The 2014 school year is still almost 2 years away, that gives school districts across the nation plenty of time to rewrite their curriculum to incorporate the CCS. Right? NO! This does not provide districts with sufficient time to fully incorporate these standards into their curriculum. There are too many problems with the implementation that are detrimental to students if not done correctly. These problems can leave students with large gaps in knowledge and possibly large failure rates on standardized testing.
From my research and the readings that I have encountered regarding the CCS in mathematics, I have found that if districts are to implement the CCS, large gaps will be present. For example, in our 8th grade Pre-Algebra class, ratios, proportions, and percents compose a large portion of the curriculum. There are numerous questions that are covered in the ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) at the 8th grade level. So the question becomes, when do we drop the concepts from teaching a whole unit of ratios, proportions, and percents? So we continue to teach it because it will be tested on the ISAT, and do we only stop when the PARCC comes into play? This becomes a large problem for many school districts. When to stop focusing on the state standards and switch over to the Common Core Standards.
The CCS are meant to provide states and school districts with a continuous flow of learning that will increase student knowledge based on the previous year’s concepts. However, through the implementation of the CCS in one lump, many districts could see a drastic drop in scores if they are not aware of the gaps from one school year to the next. Curriculum leaders must carefully analyze what their standards are for each grade level and make adjustments, not just make the leap into the CCS blindly. Furthermore, I propose that schools simply begin by preparing their students one year at a time. Why not begin with the full implementation of the CCS at the Kindergarten level at year one. From there, the implementation would follow that grade. Teachers and administrators would be given education regarding the standards and be allowed to prepare years in advance prior to being asked to teach solely to the CCS. Below you will see my outline of how it should done in order to increase teacher knowledge and readiness while decreasing student gaps in knowledge (in terms of math CCS implementation).
- Year 1
- K-1 teachers begin rewriting curriculum to include CCS
- K teachers attend workshops and training on CCS
- Year 2
- K teachers fully implement CCS
- 2nd grade teachers begin rewriting curriculum to include CCS
- 1st grade teachers attend workshops and training on CCS
- Year 3
- 1st grade teachers fully implement CCS
- 3rd grade teachers begin rewriting curriculum to include CCS
- 2nd grade teachers attend workshops and training on CCS
- Year 4
- 2nd grade teachers fully implement CCS
- 4th grade teachers begin rewriting curriculum to include CCS
- 3rd grade teachers attend workshops and training on CCS
- Year 5
- 3rd grade teachers fully implement CCS
- 5th grade teachers begin rewriting curriculum to include CCS
- 4th grade teachers attend workshops and training on CCS
This would continue until finally reaching high school, where the changes would continue. While I realize that this will take more than 12 years, the gap would be closed, allowing the CCS to start at Kindergarten and follow students through their schooling years. The common theme that is occurring throughout school districts is to make the change and go with the flow. Everyone is aware that there will be huge ‘dips’ in standardized test scores and that many districts will see failing grades in the first few years. However, being a teacher that is thinking about her students at all times, what about those students that are going to experience the ‘dip’ in scores. How will this impact them and their feelings towards their education. Will students that are accustomed to being in the top, start to see themselves as no longer intelligent? What will happen to the kids that are currently below average, will they now be labeled as a ‘warning level’? I cannot imagine what will happen to students when these scores reflect the change in the curriculum. Will the gaps be large enough to create a state of failure?
I hope that as teachers we will work hard enough and look at the curriculum gaps that may occur because of the implementation of the CCS. The CCS are beneficial to our students in many ways that I will touch in my future articles, but without the knowledge of the CCS and current state standards, gaps that may exist, and future implication, I fear that many students may feel the brunt of the change in a negative way.
What are your feelings about the change? What are you doing to help eliminate gaps that may occur when you change your curriculum?