Transitioning to the Common Core: What Teachers Need to Know NOW Julie McNamara, Math Solutions Development Manager and Author
Patty Clark, Math Solutions Associate Director of Professional Development
"Gone are the days when students just copy a formula and try to get the correct answer."
This is a very exciting time for mathematics education.
As of April 2012, 45 states, as well as the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands, have already officially adopted the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, and many pilot schools across the country are beginning to implement the standards in their classrooms.
Teachers who are piloting the program are finding that transitioning to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) requires a shift in both the "what" and the "how" of teaching math. And they are seeing for themselves the deeper learning that results from calling upon students to demonstrate the types of competencies set forth in the CCSS: speculating, reasoning, defending and debating their thinking, solving problems in more than one way, connecting math to everyday problems, and more.
And yet, for schools and teachers who have not yet begun the transition process, many questions may remain about the goals, intent, and assessment process of the CSSS, as well as the "what," "who," "why," and "how" of implementing the standards in the classroom.
The "What"The CCSS resulted from a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). States must adopt the CCSS to be eligible for Race to the Top funds.
Central to the CCSS are the Standards for Mathematical Practice. These practices reflect the most advanced and innovative thinking on how all students should interact with math content to master essential skills and their underlying concepts:
In addition to the Standards for Mathematical Practice, the authors of the CCSS answered the question "What do teachers need to know NOW?" by suggesting that K–5 teachers specifically also focus their efforts on two other main areas—the Mathematical Properties (the Properties of Operations, Properties of Equality, and Properties of Inequality) and the Different Types of Word Problems. The CCSS attention to the properties addresses the issue of coherence, as students must focus explicitly and intentionally on the properties across the grade levels.
- Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
- Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
- Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
- Model with mathematics.
- Use appropriate tools strategically.
- Attend to precision.
- Look for and make use of structure.
- Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.
The "Who"The CCSS for Mathematics was written by Phil Daro, Bill McCallum (mathematician), and Jason Zimba (physicist), plus a commission of 75 others. Their mission was to come up with standards for teaching mathematics that:
- are aligned with college and work expectations;
- are clear, understandable, and consistent;
- include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills;
- build upon strengths and lessons of current state standards;
- are informed by other top-performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society; and
- are evidence-based.
Goals The developers of the standards defined three clear goals that stress consistency and clarity to ensure that teachers, parents, and students are working together toward the same ends:
- Provide a clear, consistent framework to prepare students for college and the workforce.
- Clearly communicate student expectations at every grade level.
- Provide rigorous standards that are consistent across states and provide teachers, parents, and students with a set of clear expectations so that everyone can work together.
IntentThe standards are outcomes-oriented, specific, and transformative:
- College and Career Readiness: Students should leave high school prepared for college or a career.
- Coherence: Articulated progressions of topics and performances are developmental and connected to other progressions. Conceptual understanding and procedural skills are stressed equally.
- Focus: Key ideas, understandings, and skills are identified. Deep learning of concepts is emphasized—time is spent on a topic and on learning it well. This counters the “mile wide, inch deep” criticism leveled against most current US standards.
- Clarity and Specificity: Skills and concepts are clearly defined, and being able to apply concepts and skills to new situations is expected.
AssessmentAssessments are common across states and aligned to the CCSS. There are two assessment consortia: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Designed to replace individual state tests in ELA and mathematics, they usher in a new and different approach to assessment design:
- Students take performance-based assessments for accountability.
- The assessment systems are computer-based for more sophisticated design and quick, reliable scoring.
- The assessments’ transparent reporting systems drive effective decision making.
The "How"The CCSS do not dictate curriculum or teaching methods; rather they leave it to educators to implement the standards wisely, supporting classrooms where teachers develop effective strategies to help students develop the deep understanding and skills they need to become strong, flexible mathematics problem solvers who have mastered essential skills and their underlying concepts and who are prepared to succeed in our global society.
Strategies and ToolsElements of effective transition to the CCSS include:
- creating a safe classroom environment;
- encouraging mathematical discourse, including facilitating individual and group work where students articulate and defend their ideas and analyze the reasoning of others;
- using formative assessment to learn what students understand and what their misconceptions are and developing strategies to improve their learning;
- providing students with a range of tools such as manipulatives, diagrams, tables, graphs, and formulas to represent and analyze relationships and draw conclusions; and
- encouraging students to use concrete models and technology strategically to solve mathematical problems.
Math Solutions offers a wide range of resources that can help you transition to the CCSS:
Finally, for more in-depth help on implementing the CCSS in your classroom, Math Solutions offers a number of professional development courses that align what you already know with what you need to learn about developing expertise in the “processes and proficiencies” outlined in the standards. You will leave each course with instructional skills and strategies you can use in your classroom immediately. For more information, click here.