Thursday, January 19, 2012

Minding the Common Core Gap In My Perfectly Skewed World

January 11th, 2012, the Ed Week headline read: New Details Surface About Common Assessments!

I was ready to read it! Bring it on! In the somewhat skewed world of mathematics education and leadership that I live in, I anxiously await the assessment consortia (PARCC and SMARTER Balanced) frameworks and assessment guidelines. We need them.

I have written previously on this blog about how I believe the CCSS implementation, which demands a much needed less (fewer standards each year) is more (those fewer standards taught for deep demonstrations of student understanding) will fail unless there is a significant paradigm shift in how we approach the day in and day out lesson planning and design for the instruction and assessment of students in our local schools.

The collaborative professional development energy and lesson planning focus of teachers and teacher leaders need the PARCC or SMARTER Balanced guidelines to prepare them for the impending rigor and expectations of the Common Core K-12 mathematics curriculum. Everyone in my field is anxiously awaiting the Common Core Standards implementation and the subsequent 2015 state testing, right?

And then I had an interesting "perspective check" of sorts earlier this week.

Since last April, I have been working with 13 of my colleagues in mathematics education to get our arms around the looming "on the horizon" reality of the Common Core State Standards and the subsequent assessments that will be arriving in the 2014-2015 school year. We have been writing a 5 book professional development series designed to help teachers and teacher leaders close the gap and transition to the expected demands of the CCSS implementation. One could argue that we have had "Common Core on the brain". We are living and breathing the CCSS demands in our work and our writing every day. And with all of it three years away before testing begins - it seems like plenty of time to respond and react, doesn't it?

Maybe not so much.

The gap, between what will be expected for student demonstration of knowledge and the currently reality of what is expected as an assessment of that student knowledge - in the majority of our K-12 schools -  is wider than the Grand Canyon. To better understand the gap, first we need to understand exactly how far we need to go. Consider this portion of the aforementioned article from Ed Week, by Catherine Gewertz:

PARRC's math test will include three types of questions: "Innovative, machine-scorable, computer based items; items that call for written arguments or justifications; critiques of mathematical reasoning, or proof that students "attend to precision" in math; and items involving real world scenarios. The performance based assessment in math will count for 40% to 50% of a student's points in that subject, and the end of course  exam will yield 50% to 60% of the points. 

To better understand where we currently stand, consider this informal poll from my recent speaking experience with about 300 K-12 mathematics educators. This group was already a skewed audience because they were attending the conference, as part of their own interest in all things CCSS. And yet, when I asked this group how many of them have looked at the Common Core States Standards for their grade level or their high school, less than 25% raised their hands. When I asked how many of them were working on current plans to change their instruction to align with the CCSS Mathematical Practices there were no more than 30-35 hands. Scaffolding the question, I asked how many of them at least knew about the CCSS Mathematical Practices aspect of the Common Core Standards (which explains part of the assessment goals of the performance aspects of the PARCC assessments listed above), there were a few more hands and when I asked them to name and describe 2 of those 8 practices, it was difficult.

Here is the point.

We are still in a very very early awareness stage of understanding the expectations of the Common Core Mathematics curriculum and the impending assessments in three years. As reported by the Editorial Project in Education (EPE) research center only 7 out of 47 states at the state department level have fully developed plans for this transition. If this is the level of planning at the state level, no wonder it has not yet bled into an urgency mode at the local school and district level - much less the classroom. As one high school teacher reminded me last week: "I have heard there is such a thing, but they are telling me it is pretty far off, and it probably won't happen anyway". I walked away wondering who "they" was, and if he really understood the benefit to teaching the mathematics curriculum for deeper student understanding.

So, what can you do? Mind the GAP.

Don't wait for your state to tell you what to do. Start your own search of the PARCC and SMARTER Balanced Websites. Don't wait to start the discussions in your elementary school, middle school or high school. Spend intentional time this summer working on collaborative lesson designs that model the Mathematical Practices for mathematics teaching and learning. In a future blog, I will share some potential lesson design templates.

Build your own bridge to close the gap, and make sure you and your students are prepared for what is sure to become a very fast three years from now. Of course I have lots of ideas about how to do this. and I will spend much of 2012 writing about it. I hope you will join me in your own personal journey of leading the way toward the Common Core and its benefits for our students.

1 comment:

  1. I had the same realization with my department in December. We started looking at the first standard (N.Q.1) and Algebra 1, and realized that we have a TON of work to do to implement the standards next school year.

    And it is all on us. Our district is not helping out as much as we think they should. Very scary to see just how big the gap really is.