Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Changes in the new draft standards (nearly all for the better)

For readers who looked at the January 13 draft of the grade-by-grade common core standards, the new edition does show important revisions.

Grades 6, 7, and 8 now have separate standards in both documents, definitely a plus for parents trying to benchmark what their children should be doing. In the earlier edition, only kindergarten through grade 5 were broken down that way.

Both subjects now show progressions more clearly, with charts showing earlier work prepares students for later, more demanding work.

High school mathematics is now organized around six conceptual categories: number and quantity, algebra, functions, geometry, statistics and probability, and modeling. At least at a quick glance, that's easier to grasp than the previous list of ten areas.

The English/language arts standards still emphasize research and argument, but the major stands are simplified to reading, writing, speaking and listening, and language standards (which includes both formal rules and an understanding of the craft and choices involved in effective communication.)

The "exemplar" texts still offer a robust list that can give both teachers and parents an intuitive sense of the level of text complexity that students should tackle. Gone, though, is the special note saying that six specific historic texts should be read by all students. Taking that out makes it consistently clear that all the specific books, poems, and speeches are examples rather than mandates.

I do see the point of that last change, but I still find it a bit sad.  As work moves on to setting history standards, I hope we can agree that the Declaration of Independence and the "I Have A Dream" speech are not examples that can be replaced by other examples: they're giant features of our civic terrain that students need to know as well as they know the Atlantic Ocean, the Rocky Mountains, the directions of the compass, and the cycle of the seasons.

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