Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Common Core and Kentucky: Fordham says we made a big step up!

In a single year, Kentucky mathematics standards moved from a D to an A-.  We did it by adopting Common Core.

For years, the Fordham Institute has provided the most consistent ratings of state standards, issuing letter grades for each subject accompanied by often biting reviews. In their early reports, before KDE's website became a complete source for key materials they sometimes relied out-of-date Kentucky documents, but in recent years, they've checked the right materials and given blunt assessments to what they read.  

The organization of Kentucky's standards is difficult to understand and often incoherent. In addition, the standards are often vaguely stated. Arithmetic is not identified as an elementary school priority and is developed poorly. The coverage of high school content is variable.
Have I mentioned that Fordham is famed for its blunt wording?

Now, however, the Fordham rating for Kentucky reflects the strength we have gained from working with other states:
The final version of the Common Core State Standards for math is exemplary in many ways. The expectations are generally well written and presented, and cover much mathematical content with both depth and rigor. But, though the content is generally sound, the standards are not particularly easy to read, and require careful attention on the part of the reader.  
The development of arithmetic in elementary school is a primary focus of these standards and that content is thoroughly covered. The often-difficult subject of fractions is developed rigorously, with clear and careful guidance. The high school content is often excellent, though the presentation is disjointed and mathematical coherence suffers. In addition, the geometry standards represent a significant departure from traditional axiomatic Euclidean geometry and no replacement foundation is established.  
Despite some weaknesses, the Common Core standards provide a solid framework for learning rigorous mathematics.
It's worth noting that Fordham did not think the Common Core is better than the prior standards in every state.  Using the same criteria for all ratings, the Institute found that:
Eleven states plus the District of Columbia have math standards in the "too close to call" category, meaning that, overall, they are at least as clear and rigorous as the Common Core standards.
Kentucky was not one of those states.  Here's Fordham's map showing those states and making a clear point: Kentucky made a substantial step up when we adopted Common Core:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Common Core: Bringing focus to math learning

For parents, the most helpful element of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics may be the opening paragraph of the introduction for each grade.  For example, the section for kindergarten begins this way:
In Kindergarten, instructional time should focus on two critical areas: (1) representing, comparing and ordering whole numbers, initially with sets of objects; (2) describing shapes and space. More learning time in Kindergarten should be devoted to number than to other topics.
For each elementary grade, two to four critical areas are listed in similar paragraphs.  Here's are the focus points:

Grade 1
• Developing understanding of addition, subtraction, and strategies for additions and subtractions within 20
• Developing understanding of whole number relationships and place value, including grouping in tens and ones
• Developing understanding of linear measurement and measuring lengths as iterating length units
• Reasoning about attributes of, and composing and decomposing geometric shapes

Grade 2
• Extending understanding of base-ten notation
• Building fluency with additions and subtractions
• Using standard units of measure
• Describing and analyzing shapes

Grade 3
• Developing understanding of multiplication and division and strategies for multiplication and division within 100
• Developing understanding of fractions, especially unit fractions (fractions with numerator 1)
• Developing understanding of the structure of rectangular arrays and of area
• Describing and analyzing two-dimensional shapes

Grade 4
Developing understanding and fluency with multi-digit multiplication, and developing understanding of dividing to find quotients involving multi-digit dividends
• Developing an understanding of fraction equivalence, addition and subtraction of fractions with like denominators, and multiplication of fractions by whole numbers
• Understanding that geometric figures can be analyzed and classified based on their properties, such as having parallel sides, perpendicular sides, particular angle measures, and symmetry

Grade 5
• Developing fluency with addition and subtraction of fractions, and developing understanding of the multiplication of fractions and of division of fractions in limited cases (unit fractions divided by whole numbers and whole numbers divided by unit fractions)
• Extending division to 2-digit divisors, integrating decimal fractions into the place value system and developing understanding of operations with decimals to hundredths, and developing fluency with whole number and decimal operations
• Developing understanding of volume

Grade 6
• Connecting ratio and rate to whole number multiplication and division and using concepts of ratio and rate to solve problems
• Completing understanding of division of fractions and extending the notion of number to the system of rational numbers, which includes negative numbers
• Writing, interpreting, and using expressions and equations
• Developing understanding of statistical thinking

Grade 7
• Developing understanding of and applying proportional relationships
• Developing understanding of operations with rational numbers and working with expressions and linear equations
• Solving problems involving scale drawings and informal geometric constructions, and working with two- and three-dimensional shapes to solve problems involving area, surface area, and volume
• Drawing inferences about populations based on samples

Grade 8
• Formulating and reasoning about expressions and equations, including modeling an association in bivariate data with a linear equation, and solving linear equations and systems of linear equations
• Grasping the concept of a function and using functions to describe quantitative relationships
• Analyzing two- and three-dimensional space and figures using distance, angle, similarity, and congruence, and understanding and applying the Pythagorean Theorem

Those paragraphs are followed by a slightly longer explanation each item, and then by the full standards for the grade.  All three levels of detail are helpful, but I think the outline above is the version parents can find most helpful in understanding their children's studies and in providing home support for students to succeed.

[Note to long-time readers: this post updates a March 21, 2010, post that reflected the draft Common Core Standards at a point when the public was invited to comment.  After that comment period, changes were made to clarify the focus of each grade, resulting in the lists above.]

Friday, May 10, 2013

Speaking and Listening (CCSS Goes Deep)

The Common Core State Standards reach beyond reading and writing to address speaking and listening.  The anchor standards for college and career readiness come under two headings and look like this.
Comprehension and Collaboration
1. Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
2. Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.  
Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas 
4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
5. Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.
6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Through the Literacy Design Collaborative, I'm seeing lots of potent work on these skills, with students becoming more able to do this work and teachers developing new insights into what further support and challenge students will need.

I'm a bit more puzzled about whether states can and will assess these skills in a standardized way.

Maybe the answer will be that, to learn academic content and make sense of complex texts they read, students will need to use these kind of speaking and listening as part of how they sort out what they are studying, and to write their own strong pieces, they will need to use similar skills on the way to organizing their work.  I see many LDC teachers adding those steps as means to the end of strong writing about important reading and essential questions in academic fields.

 Or, possibly, innovative districts like my own Danville Independent will work out richer ways for students demonstrate this sort of skill, moving us beyond what "pencil and paper" or "keyboard and screen" assessments can measure well.

Or, perhaps, some other approach is already being developed for these issues.  Part of the genius of Common Core is that, because many states have the same goals, an innovative approach can be used many places.  For all kinds of organizations working to support schools and students, that means each effort that works can spread farther and make a bigger difference.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Writing Many Ways, For Many Reasons

10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.
Ultimately, writing is a skill for adult life, growing steadily more important in an information age.  This last Common Core writing standard calls for writing to become a reliable, flexible habit for all students by the time they complete high school, so that they are ready for college and career success. 

That writing won't all be sonnets and it won't all be work memos: the writing the next generation will do will have varied goals and styles and deadlines, but Common Core aims for them to be ready to participate, contribute, and write in the ways that are valuable for their future and ours.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Writing to Build and Share Knowledge (CCSS 7-9)

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.  
8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.  
9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
Here are three more Common Core anchor standards for writing.  These focus on what goes into the writing, expecting students to gather and organize evidence, rather than just invent their pieces by imagining or imitating adult debates.   They build on the three kinds of writing (argumentation, explanation, and narrative) and the three skills for producing and distributing those writings, and again, I think they're the right thing to work on.

Standard 8 is especially valuable.   Assessing sources has always been key to well-informed citizenship, and it's become even more important as the Internet makes so many texts available with so little filtering for quality.  The next generation will need to be able to use those resources wisely, and Common Core calls for us to equip them to do that well.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Monday, May 6, 2013

Teacher Salaries, Dropout Rates, Length of School Term, Functional Illiteracy.....

Teacher Salaries, Dropout Rates, Length of School Term, Functional Illiteracy.....

Writing to Argue, Explain, or Tell a Story (CCSS 1-3)

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. 
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. 
3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.
The Common Core State Standards for Writing call for students to produce three kinds of texts: the words above are the anchor standards for college and career readiness for "text types and purposes."

Common Core also shows grade-by-grade steps on the way to each of those anchor standards. For instance, Standard 2 is expanded to ask first graders students to "Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure."  That's right for that age group, and then growth is added year by year.  By fifth grade, students are asked to:
2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
a. Introduce a topic clearly, provide a general observation and focus, and group related information logically; include formatting (e.g., headings), illustrations, and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.
b. Develop the topic with facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples related to the topic.
c. Link ideas within and across categories of information using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., in contrast, especially).
d. Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.
e. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the information or explanation presented.
I've lived pretty much my whole life with college professors, and I'm pretty sure I understand what they hunt for in student writing and don't always find.  That fifth grade standard, halfway through the school progression, already aims to move students higher than what postsecondary programs currently see from some high school graduates.   Students who move past that to meet the grade 11-12 version of the standards will be ready for excellent work and robust futures.

Common Core is about giving students a shot at that level of skill.  It's the right bar, and I'm glad we're aiming to lift all Kentucky students to that level.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Friday, May 3, 2013

Reading for Literature AND Information (CCSS 10)

10. Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
Above, the tenth and last of the Common Core anchor standards for reading.

This standard sums up the three "key ideas and details" standards,  the three "craft and structure" standards, and the three "integration of knowledge and ideas" standards I blogged earlier this week.   It adds that students need to be able to handle the complexity of documents they will have to use on the job and in higher education.

It also carries two additional points central to Common Core:

  • First, "complex texts" are what students must master.  Appendix A to the Common Core lays out the key reasons, giving evidence that students who can handle simple readings may not be ready for the reading that matters for adult success, and plenty of evidence that the reading needed for adult success is getting more demanding as technology and global competition expand.
  • Second, reading literary texts--both fiction and eloquent non-fiction--is part of what students should be able to do, but not all of what they need.  They also must be able to read about community, national, and global issues, political challenges, scientific discoveries, and technical applications of those discoveries.  Recently, there's been an odd worry that English teachers will have to teach the informational texts and end up dropping most poems and plays, but that's simply a mistake.  Common Core is quite clear that informational reading should happen most of all in science and history and career/technical classes, so that students are reading to learn those important fields.

To be clear, I don't think Common Core is a magic wand that solves all problems. On the contrary, our teachers have plenty of further work to do, designing how they'll teach each day, check what students have learned, and make ongoing adjustments to move each student to these standards. But setting clear, brief, very high, very smart standards, Common Core lays the right cornerstone so that teachers have solid place to start on the rest of the building.  I think we've done this step right, and I'm proud that Kentucky is leading the nation on the steps that come next.

Next week: writing standards.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reading To Think Through Information and Ideas (CCSS 7-9)

7. Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. 
8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence. 
9. Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Here are three more Common Core anchor standards for reading.  Where the first three asked students to work on "key ideas and details," and the second three asked them to understand the "craft and structure" of that they read, these three focus on "integration of knowledge and ideas."

Standard 8 is my very favorite part of the whole Common Core process, because it asks students to track the evidence and check whether each author's positions are well grounded in reliable facts and sensible reasoning.  To me, that sounds like the basics of citizenship preparation, and close to the root of why America has public schools.

Standard 8 is also my inspiration for this set of blog posts.  For those who are wary about Common Core, I say they should start by reading Common Core.  If you think they're wrong for Kentucky's kids, say which part you think is wrong, quoting from the actual text.  Wrestle the real document and the real evidence, and don't settle for anyone else's summary.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Reading to See How the Words Work (CCSS 4-6)

4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.  
5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.  
6. Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
The lines above are the second set of Common Core anchor standards, focused on "Craft and Structure," and listed right after the three on "Key Ideas and Details." In Kentucky and most (not all) other states, teachers are now working to equip students to do those three things by the end of high school, so that they will be ready for college and career success.

I think these are smart things to expect.  Words don't mean the same thing in every sentence, and readers need to be able to use all the available clues to figure out how each part of a story, article, opinion piece, technical manual, or other reading works.

I am delighted that Kentucky teachers are now working out how to meet this standards, moving step by step from kindergarten to the end of high school to get Kentucky students ready to read this way as adults.

You can download the complete Common Core State Standards here. They were developed by organizations of governors and chief state school officers like Kentucky's Commissioner of Education, and they've been adopted by 46 states (47 for the mathematics standards).