Sunday, May 8, 2011

Common Core and math

The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are coming, ready or not. Illinois and 43 other states have adopted them. As if everything else going on in education wasn't enough, CCSS will be a Big Deal for teachers in all grades when they go into effect in the 2014-15 school year (which right now sounds like it is sometime in the 23rd century).

For a good write-up about CCSS in relation to math education, see the latest column by the J. Michael Shaughnessy, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, titled "CCSSM and Curriculum and Assessment: NOT Business as Usual". From his write-up, expect new curricula, lots of PD and powerpoints, and much general wailing and gnashing of teeth as the oil tanker of math education is turned.

Two things stand out for me re: the math standards (especially the way Shaughnessy explains it).

One is the emphasis on both math content and math practice. According to CCSS, there are eight math practices that students should master:
  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model with mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for and make use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
With the exception "model with mathematics" (#4), the math practices outlined in the new core standards are more generally life-persistent skills in thinking and solving problems. If teachers are allowed to organically infuse the classroom with these practices, education may well look very different.

The other thing about Shaughnessy's write-up that stands out for me is how standardized testing will change to reflect the new standards. He includes links to some initial draft assessments, including the Math Assessment Project (MAP) and the Inside Mathematics initiative. The sample assessments are much more about solving problems -- "performance tasks" -- than simple skill assessment (as is the case of most of the current standardized tests).

This emphasis on performance tasks is supposed to be reflected in the two initiatives to revamp standardized testing. (Illinois is supporting the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) initiative; the other one is SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC); both are supported by the Department of Education.) Both initiatives will be administered online. PARCC calls their tests, to be administered four times a year, "next-gen assessments".

I am not sure how "performance tasks" (think of ISAT's extended response as a possible example) will be done online, if at all. Both consortia are talking about computer-adaptive tests for portions of the tests, which makes me wonder how they will be different from, say, the Scantron Performance Series tests we are taking right now. From PARCC's powerpoint, it appears that the assessment process will drive the instructional frameworks that will end up driving the implementation of CCSS. This doesn't have to be a bad thing (that is, tail wagging dog), it all depends on whether really good assessments can be developed from CCSS that actually can assess a student's math practice.

The general drift in math standards, to me, reflects similar changes made to the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS), revised in 2007. NETS focuses not on technical skills, but on how the tools are used. Only one of the six NETS for Students standards refers to technique ("Technology Operations and Concepts"), the other five emphasize creativity, communication and collaboration, information fluency, critical thinking, and citizenship. That is, both CCSS math practices and NETS emphasize a meta-approach to learning -- how to think, how to create.

The mere existence of NETS does not mean of course that they are implemented in a deep way. Nor will the mere existence of thoughtful standards for math practice mean that they will improve math education. So much depends on if teachers will be allowed to implement them.


No comments: