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PPI Series: Are you Smarter Than An 8th Grader? Sample Question from the New York State Grade 8 Math Assessment

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part eleven of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

To help educators and the public understand how the annual math tests have changed in accordance with what the state’s new, higher standards demand, the New York State Education Department has released a sample of test questions on EngageNY.org.  To solve the problem shown below, for example, students must recall the formula for the volume of a cylinder and apply it to solve a real-world problem.  The annotated answer key models how teachers should analyze their students’ work on classroom assignments throughout the year, looking at why students got the wrong answer and determining whether there is any pattern in students’ mistakes that would indicate the need to re-teach part of the unit.

Sample question from New York State Grade 8 Math Assessment

A water tank is in the shape of a right circular cylinder with a height of 20 feet and a volume of 320π cubic feet. What is the diameter, in feet, of the water tank?

A 16
B 10
C 8
D 4

Correct Answer: C
Measured CCLS: 8.G.9

Commentary: The item measures 8.G.9 because it measures using the formula for the volume of a cylinder (V = πr2h) to solve real-world problems; it has students solve for the diameter of a cylinder given the volume and height.

Answer Choice A: 16. This response reflects the radius squared of the cylinder. The student likely divided the volume by the height times π, but did not take the square root of the result to determine the radius. A student who selects this response may have limited understanding of how to solve for a variable in a formula.
320π ÷ 20π = 16

Answer Choice B: 10. This response reflects half of the height of the cylinder. A student who selects this response may not understand how to use the formula for the volume of a cylinder or the relationship between the dimensions of the cylinder.
20 ÷ 2 = 10

Answer Choice C: 8. The student correctly determined the diameter of the cylinder. The student who selects this response used the formula for the volume of a cylinder to solve for the radius of the cylinder, and then used the radius to find the diameter.
V = πr2h
320π = πr2(20) 2r = d
16 = r2 2 × 4 = 8
4 = r

Answer Choice D: 4. This response reflects the radius of the cylinder. A student who selects this response may understand how to use the formula for the volume of a cylinder, but may not understand the relationship between the radius and diameter of the cylinder or attend to precision when answering the question posed in the problem.

V = πr2h
320π = πr2(20)
16 = r2
4 = r

Answer options A, B, and D are plausible but incorrect. They represent common student errors made when using the formula of a cylinder to solve real-world and mathematical problems. Answer option C represents the correct process used to solve for the diameter of a cylinder given the volume and height.

Please click here to read part ten in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: The Common Core is Not About Zany Math or Indoctrinating Children. It’s About Conceptual Understanding and Critical Thinking in Real-World Contexts (Just Like the New SAT)

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part ten of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

You have probably seen the social media posts showing math homework that makes no sense or requires children to do multiple confusing steps to solve a simple addition problem. Should we blame the Common Core standards for confusing assignments?  The standards rightly specify that students need to be “fluent” in solving arithmetic problems—in other words, they need to be able to perform arithmetic calculations quickly and without stopping to think.  But the standards go further by demanding that students understand the concepts behind arithmetic and be able to demonstrate that understanding in more than one way. For example, students may use drawings or work with manipulatives to illustrate how arithmetic works. This enables children with different learning styles to experiment until they discover a model that makes sense to them.

At higher levels, students are expected to “solve math problems rooted in the real world, deciding for themselves which formulas and tools (such as protractors and rulers) to use.” Assignments and test questions often require students to complete several steps and draw on the application of multiple skills and concepts.  The rapid transition to the Common Core has afforded teachers and curriculum publishers less lead time than they are accustomed to, to develop materials to guide students through these conceptual processes and applications, and so the quality of lessons and assignments has been uneven. These growing pains are dissipating as teachers become more comfortable with the standards, and materials are revised and refined. Moreover, the availability of free video lessons on Khan Academy and elsewhere means that even the most math-phobic parent can find help with Common Core homework.

What about the Common Core standards in English language arts and literacy?  Some critics have gone so far as to liken the Common Core initiative to Communism or Nazism, or have said that that it is anti-freedom, or even that it will turn children into homosexuals.  If you read the Common Core standards closely, you will discover a certain irony to such baseless claims. At their heart, the standards ask students to become comfortable reading and analyzing texts drawn from real-world sources, especially non-fiction texts in science and social studies.

Under the Common Core standards, students are asked to do “close reading” and to ground their analyses in information gathered from the assigned texts.  The irony, then, is that Common Core opponents will be hard-pressed to find any evidence of Communism, Nazism, or homosexual propaganda in the language of the standards themselves.  Because the standards aim to instill critical thinking skills, students will inevitably be asked to study texts with which they or their parents disagree, including texts that espouse a range of social and political viewpoints.  The selection of particular reading materials is a local curricular decision.  So anti-Common Core activists are probably right when they warn that “[y]our child or grandchild will not be able to escape Common Core materials that are anti-Christian, anti-capitalism, and anti-America, or that are pro-homosexuality, illegal immigration, unions, environmentalism, gun control, feminism, and social justice.”  The Common Core standards are not about “escaping” from texts; they are about grappling with them.

New York’s rigorous Common Core-aligned assessments, though unpopular in some circles, will prove to be excellent preparation for the SAT.  One of the lead authors of the Common Core standards, David Coleman, is now head of the College Board, and under his leadership, the SAT has been redesigned in line with the Common Core.  The new exam engages students in evidence-based reading and writing, drawing on more non-fiction texts from science and social studies sources.  The math portion focuses on the areas of math that are most important for college and career, and asks students “to solve problems in science, social science, and career contexts.”  The College Board began administering the new SAT in spring 2016.  The smart money says that New York policymakers will maintain the state’s momentum in implementing the Common Core, to give our students the best possible preparation for the redesigned SAT.

Please click here to read part nine in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Making Sense of the Controversy Over Raising New York’s Education Standards: Let’s Review

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part nine of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

In the wake of the 2015 opt-out testing boycott, Governor Cuomo convened a Common Core Task Force to study the standards and tests, and the New York State Education Department launched a survey to solicit input on the standards, particularly from parents and teachers. One benefit of such reviews is that they force would-be critics to actually read and become familiar with the standards.  According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a think tank that specializes in analyzing education standards, most states that have conducted reviews have found that the Common Core standards are consistent with the research on what skills and knowledge students need to be college- and career-ready, and have therefore ended up making only relatively minor changes to the standards.

The Task Force’s report devotes much attention to describing stakeholders’ frustration surrounding the swift adoption and implementation of the standards, confusion over whether the EngageNY curriculum resources were mandatory (they were not), and complaints about the grades 3-8 ELA and math tests.  Congress’s December 2015 reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act retains the requirement for states to test students annually in ELA and math in grades 3-8, so the tests themselves will remain in place.  But in a significant move, the Board of Regents has adopted the Task Force’s recommendation to remove any consequences for teachers’ and principals’ evaluations related to the grades 3-8 ELA and math tests until the 2019-2020 school year.

As for the standards themselves, the majority of responses to NYSED’s survey (more than 70 percent) were positive.  Moreover, the Task Force explicitly affirmed that New York must maintain high educational standards” and “build upon the foundation established by the Common Core standards.”  The aspects of the standards that received the most criticism from survey respondents had to do with the early grades.  The Task Force report recommended that NYSED seek input from child development experts to ensure that the standards for the early grades are developmentally appropriate.  NYSED is launching a process whereby committees of educators, parents, students, and–notably–business representatives will recommend revisions to the standards, to be implemented in 2017-18.  The Department has pledged to “use this feedback … to help us identify where and what changes are needed to make New York’s Common Core ELA and Math Learning Standards stronger.”  Indeed,  the best possible outcome of this scrutiny and fine-tuning at the state level would be if it were ultimately to strengthen the Common Core standards and improve their implementation.

Please click here to read part eight in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Making Sense of the Controversy Over Raising New York’s Education Standards: What Is At Stake?

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part eight of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

Now that the grades 3-8 ELA and math tests reflect higher standards, and far fewer students are labeled “proficient,” it is commonplace to hear complaints about overuse of “high-stakes tests” in our schools.  Typically, a test is defined as having “high stakes” if it is used to make important decisions such as whether a student will be promoted to the next grade or awarded a high school diploma.  It is worth reviewing exactly what stakes are attached to New York’s ELA and math tests.  For many years (predating the current controversies), New York has required that students pass the Comprehensive English Regents exam and at least one math Regents exam in order to obtain a Regents diploma, so those are indeed high-stakes exams.  The ELA and math tests that are administered to all students in grades 3-8 do not carry high stakes for students, however.  Per explicit state policy, districts and schools are not encouraged to use the grades 3-8 ELA and math test results as the basis for decisions about placing students in particular courses or promoting them to the next grade.  If they do take the test results into consideration, it should be in conjunction with other information, to ensure they are looking at a complete picture of student performance.  The primary way in which schools use individual students’ test results is to identify those who are may be struggling and could benefit from extra help (known as “academic intervention services”) in reading or math.  In other words, students are identified and offered remedial education early in their school careers, as soon as the need emerges.  Many parents and educators object that the state has set expectations above “grade level” and that too many students are therefore being identified as in need of support.  In response, the state gave districts some flexibility in deciding which students should receive academic support services.  But the state’s essential position is that the expectations have been set externally, by colleges, employers, and other nations—all of whom were demanding more of high school graduates than our education system had heretofore been delivering—and that New York’s education system must raise standards to keep pace with the changing global economy.

Schools and teachers have numerous methods of determining whether particular students might require academic support, and indeed that is not the primary purpose of the federally mandated annual testing program.   Rather, the tests were instituted to provide a uniform source of data by which schools, districts, and states can be measured and held accountable for their effectiveness in educating students of different demographic groups.  Civil rights groups and advocates for students with disabilities have hailed the importance of the annual ELA and math tests in shining a light on achievement gaps that have, for too many years, left certain student populations behind.

Since 2010, New York expanded use of the tests from school and district accountability to include teacher and principal accountability as well, and these are the “high stakes” that have generated the bulk of the controversy.  As part of its successful bid to win $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program, the State Education Department and the New York State United Teachers union negotiated a law that requires districts to conduct thorough annual evaluations of all teachers and principals, and student outcomes are one required component of those evaluations.  (The majority of the rating is based on classroom observations by the principal or another trained evaluator.)  Teachers are not rated based on the percentage of their students scoring “proficient,” as that would be patently unfair to teachers of needier students.  Instead, all teachers of grades 4-8 ELA and math receive a “value-added” score based on how much each student improved on the state test compared with that same student’s performance in previous years.  The mathematical model controls for poverty and other factors, and teachers are compared with others who taught similar populations.  New York’s new Commissioner of Education, Mary Ellen Elia, successfully oversaw a similar system in Hillsborough County, Florida.  Hillsborough’s system awarded bonuses to effective teachers and had the support of the local union.  But the union backlash in New York has been fierce.  All of the NYSUT officers who negotiated the initial law were voted out, and the new leadership organized a campaign urging parents to opt their children out of the grades 3-8 ELA and math tests.

A primary rationale behind the opt-out movement is that if too few students take the tests, the data will become useless for evaluation purposes.  Of course, the data also become less usable for all other legitimate purposes, including measuring achievement gaps, making policy decisions, and conducting research into educational effectiveness.

Please click here to read part seven in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Making Sense of the Controversy Over Raising Education Standards: Redefining Proficiency

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part seven of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

Based on the publicity that the issue has received in recent years, one might think that standards and testing were new to our state, or that the number of tests administered by the state had suddenly increased.  But New York has been administering standardized tests for 150 years and has had learning standards since 1996, as shown in the timeline below.  The last time the state added a new mandatory test was about a decade ago, when the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind/NCLB) began requiring every state to administer ELA and math tests in grades 3 through 8.   The number of tests that the state administers has essentially remained the same since then.  What has changed is the level of performance that the Board of Regents now expects from students in order for those students to be considered “proficient.”  And because a test is used to measure mastery of the standards, the state’s ELA and math tests have been rewritten to “align” with the Common Core standards.

Under NCLB, each state established its own definitions of “proficiency” at each grade level, which is how they set passing scores on those tests.  Under the definition of proficiency that New York had in place in 2009, 77% of children passed the ELA tests and 85% passed the math tests in grades 3-8.  Yet the state’s persistently high rates of college remediation told a different story:  fewer than 40% of New York’s students were graduating with college- and career-ready ELA and math skills.  In other words, the state was telling parents that their children were “proficient” in English and math, yet when those students eventually graduated and enrolled in college, large numbers of them were being labeled in need of remediation and forced to spend their financial aid dollars to re-take high school material.

Figure 7. New York Standards and Testing Milestones

Source: NYSED, http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/timeline-historyrev.pdf, http://www.p12.nysed.gov/ciai/lscorehistory.htmlhttp://www.p12.nysed.gov/newsnotes/archive/20100728.html

In 2010, the Board of Regents made a major first step towards instituting higher standards when they re-set proficiency cut scores against college readiness benchmarks.  This means that a student is now rated “proficient” on the grades 3-8 ELA and math tests only if that student is considered on track to graduate from high school and to be able to enter college without needing remedial courses.  The percentage of students scoring “proficient” or above fell sharply, and is now closely in line with college- and career-readiness rates—earning New York top marks from education reform advocates for its transparency:  New York has opted to tell the unvarnished truth about whether its students are prepared for the world they will face when they leave school.

Criticism of New York’s move to higher standards has focused on (1) the speed of the rollout, and (2) the use of the Common Core-aligned assessments as the basis for making decisions about individual students or educators.  Many parents and educators have argued that New York should have implemented higher standards gradually, starting with Kindergarteners and adding one grade each year thereafter.  The state’s position is that all students will face higher standards in the world of work, and that New York cannot afford to write off an entire generation while our schools raise education standards at a comfortable pace.

Figure 8: New York is Phasing in the Common Core Standards Over 12 Years

Please click here to read part six in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Business and Higher Education Leaders Support College- and Career-Ready Standards to Boost New York’s Economy

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part six of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

By themselves, new education standards cannot solve New York’s skills gap or remedial education epidemic, but they are an important piece of the puzzle.  Here’s how it works:  With clearer standards to guide educators, a higher percentage of high schoolers should graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college, and fewer of them should require remedial courses.  A reduction in the need for remediation should increase college attainment rates.  Economists have shown that higher levels of college attainment lead to a more productive workforce.  College-educated workers earn higher wages, which enables them to contribute more in tax revenue and rely less on state assistance programs.

Figure 4. Theory of Action

New York’s neighbor to the east, Massachusetts, provides a convincing case study of how raising standards is an important step to improving educational outcomes and economic productivity.  In the early 1990s, a group called the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education issued a report that became the blueprint for a bipartisan reform bill.  The reform package included three main components:  (1) More money to urban schools and pre-Kindergarten programs; (2) ambitious academic standards; and (3) a new set of testing requirements, including high school exit exams (analogous to New York’s Regents Exams), known collectively as the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS).   When the MCAS was first administered in 1998, students in urban schools performed terribly.  Improvement was so slow at first that researchers thought the reforms had failed, but State Superintendent David Driscoll insisted on staying the course.

Over the next ten years, Massachusetts became the envy of the nation for its education outcomes.  In 2005, Massachusetts scored at the top of all four categories measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (4th and 8th grade ELA and math).  In 2008, Massachusetts 8th graders tied for first in the world in science on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study exam.  From 2002 to 2009, NAEP scores for Massachusetts African-Americans and Hispanics on the 4th and 8th grade ELA improved faster than those of white students.  If Massachusetts were a country, its 2009 PISA scores would place it in the top ten, with countries like Singapore, Korea, and Finland.  Economic outcomes have improved as well.  The share of adults with a college degree has grown more in Massachusetts than in any other state, and worker productivity has grown more quickly in Massachusetts than in all but two other states.

If our policymakers wish to replicate Massachusetts’ outstanding educational trajectory, they will have to resist political opposition to tougher standards and tests, continue to gather high-quality data via standardized tests and other means, and throw their strong support behind policies that have the best chance of improving student outcomes.  Understanding this, New York’s business and higher education leaders—from IBM’s Stanley Litow and Xerox’s Ursula Burns, to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken—have been vocal supporters of the Common Core standards, vigorously urging their colleagues, policymakers, and the public to see them through to full implementation.

Please click here to read part five in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: New York Needs College- and Career-Ready Standards to Bridge the Skills Gap

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part five of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

To a troubling degree, young adults leave New York’s high schools and colleges lacking the skills and knowledge that employers are looking for.  A newly released Public Policy Institute survey of New York employers from across the state finds that the majority face a mismatch between the skills they need and the skills workers possess.  More than 60% of the employers surveyed report difficulty finding workers with data analysis skills or critical thinking skills, and more than half have difficulty finding workers skilled at problem-solving, communications, research, or applied mathematics.  Indeed, more than twenty percent say it is “very difficult” to find workers with skills in data analysis or applied mathematics.  Between one-third and one-half of employers responding to the survey report difficulty finding workers with such skills as time management, reasoning, teamwork, application of core content, or the use of technology.

Percent of New York Employers Reporting Difficulty Finding Workers with Needed Skills

Percent of New York Employers Reporting Difficulty Finding Workers with Needed Skills

The origins of this skills gap lie in New York’s education pipeline.  Before the Board of Regents voted to adopt the Common Core, New York’s education standards were failing to keep pace with the changing demands of our global economy.  Three-quarters of New York students graduate from high school, but statistics released by the New York State Education Department reveal that only 38% of high school students graduate with the literacy and math skills they need for college and careers.   The “college- and career-ready graduation rate,” refers to the percentage of students graduating with a score of at least 75 on the Regents English and 80 on a math Regents exam, scores that have been shown to correlate with success in first-year college courses.  In other words, until the Common Core standards are fully phased in, a student can earn a high school diploma in New York without having mastered fundamental math and literacy skills.

New York State high school graduation rate, 2010 cohort.

New York State High School Graduation Rate, 2010 Cohort

Because a high school diploma no longer signifies academic preparedness, large numbers of incoming college students are surprised to discover that they require remedial courses in reading, writing, or mathematics.  More than fifty percent of students in New York two-year institutions of higher education, and 20 percent of those entering four-year institutions, take at least one remedial course.  In fact, many must take more than one.  This is a problem for multiple reasons.  First, it is more difficult for students who need remediation to graduate from college—both because they have difficulty meeting the academic challenge, and because it is harder for them to take and pay for the additional courses.  Tightening financial aid eligibility rules and academic progress requirements ensnare remedial students.  Second, the remedial education epidemic is a huge waste of taxpayer money. Each year, the State spends over $70 million on remediation at State University of New York (SUNY) community colleges alone.  SUNY community college students themselves spend approximately $93 million in tuition—much of it in the form of government-financed aid—on remedial classes, which cover material they should have learned in high school. These shocking figures do not include the millions of additional taxpayer dollars spent on remediation for New York students at the City University of New York and private colleges.

A first step in closing the skills gap and reducing the need for college remediation is to clearly state what skills and knowledge a high school graduate should possess.  The Common Core standards are essentially a detailed statement of expectations in math and English language arts/literacy.  (Despite widespread misconceptions, they are not a curriculum, nor are they a program of testing.)  They consist of “college and career readiness standards,” which state what students are expected to know and be able to do by the time they graduate from high school (the goal); and K-12 standards, which cover the elementary, middle, and high school grades (the path to that goal).   The college and career readiness standards were developed first, drawing on statistical analysis of employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and validated by interviews with managers from industries that employ highly-paid professionals and well-paid, skilled workers.  Furthermore, the standards are internationally benchmarked, to help ensure that our students are globally competitive.  For example, the drafters of the Common Core standards identified countries whose students were top performers on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, then studied how those countries teach math, in order to gain insight on “the most effective sequencing of math topics.” Researchers also looked at the language skills that high-performing countries expect of their students, including the types and complexity of texts.

Excerpts from the Common Core standards (below) illustrate how the standards address the skills in greatest demand in the Public Policy Institute’s survey.  This is only a brief sampling, to give a sense of how the standards are worded and the kinds of skills they cover.  Most of these skills are woven throughout the standards (which can be read in full on the Common Core State Standards Initiative website at www.corestandards.org, or on the New York State Education Department’s EngageNY.org site).  The Common Core standards are not just about mastering content and concepts.  They emphasize modeling, critical thinking, and collaboration, requiring students to use math and literacy skills to analyze real-world situations, construct arguments, make informed decisions, solve problems, and present their findings.Examples of Skills Covered in the Standards

Examples of Skills Covered in the Standards

Please click here to read the fourth part in this ongoing series.

Analysis highlights flaw in medical mergers

Today the New York Times took a look at medical practice and hospital mergers to help determine if the quality of care is worth the increases in costs. The analysis asserts that the use of what is known as an integrated delivery system (I.D.S.) is spreading but, according to the commentary, “…the evidence suggests that an I.D.S. doesn’t always improve patient care and keep costs down…”

The Times piece goes on to say, “Other research that examined 15 nationally prominent integrated delivery systems found no meaningful differences in the quality of care provided by their flagship hospitals, compared with their main competitors. And it turned out that the I.D.S. hospitals were more costly.”

Hospital and healthcare system mergers and acquisitions were supposed to create efficiencies and bring costs down. However, as this piece outlines, multiple recent studies have concluded that consolidation of medical providers leads instead to higher prices for patients.

Policymakers need to concentrate on legislative and regulatory solutions that ensure decreases in healthcare costs, instead of relying on methods that do the opposite. This is why The Business Council opposes measures such as S.4417-A (Murphy) / A.2888-A (Abinanti), which would exclude the Westchester Health Care Corporation from state antitrust laws in its contracts and arrangements with multiple providers.

PPI Series: Teachers Point to Early Benefits of Higher Standards

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part four of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

While there have been plenty of challenges with the adoption of higher standards in New York, the public has not been hearing enough about the positive results that the state is already seeing.  Student outcomes are not going to improve overnight, as Massachusetts learned when it raised standards in the 1990s (more on that in a future post).  But the results of New York’s math tests, which are used to measure students’ mastery of the standards, are encouraging:  The percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level has increased by seven points, from 31% in 2013 up to 38% in 2015.  Even more promising, the Common Core movement seems to have tapped a phenomenal burst of energy and creativity among New York’s teachers.  In today’s post, you’ll hear from some of those teachers in their own words.

The “Engaged Voices” section of the New York State Education Department’s EngageNY.org site is full of ideas, videos, and testimonials by New York teachers and administrators.  (The teacher and principal testimonials throughout this post are from Engaged Voices unless otherwise noted.)  Angela Logan-Smith, principal of the Goldie Maple Academy in Queens, describes how teachers are using the standards as a jumping-off point for innovative learning activities: 

Children get engaged in ideas and love to do projects to extend their learning. Teachers love this too; it gives them a chance to pursue their students’ interests in creative ways. Last year, one class of kindergartners was fascinated with recycling after finishing [a Common-Core-aligned unit] called Taking Care of the Earth. Their teacher took them on a walk near the school in which they identified litter that could have been recycled. The next day, the teacher brought in clean examples of all the things they identified. After donning their white lab coats, these little scientists figured out which recycling bin each item belonged in [and] discussed what could have been saved if all the litter they saw outside had been recycled.

The EngageNY.org site also contains free curriculum resources for teachers and principals and has received tens of millions of hits.  Katherine Hesla, a humanities teacher in Webster Central Schools near Rochester, talks about the advantages of sharing ideas and resources in a recent Wall Street Journal article.  “One of the huge benefits of the Common Core is that it gave us someplace to start from and collaborate,” she explains.  “Before, we were all just making up our own thing.”

Louis Cuglietto, the principal of JFK Magnet Elementary School in the Mid-Hudson Valley, explains the way math instruction is changing under the new standards:

Instead of lessons that feature a single procedure, teachers are facilitating learning by giving students multiple ways that they can use to come to the answer. Students then discuss both their answer and the process they used, which provides the opportunity for all students to learn from each other and develop a more fluid, conceptual understanding of mathematics.

Karen Marino, a math specialist in Skaneateles, Central New York, describes it as a “new rigorous math world in which struggle and persistence precede success.”  According to Marylee Liebowitz, a math coach from Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES, these shifts are long overdue:

As a math teacher for twenty-two years, I witnessed first-hand how American students have slipped further and further behind their global competitors…. We, as educators, have been unable to raise student performance in math and have repeatedly found US students near the bottom of the math rankings, despite the disproportionate amount of money spent on educating each child. During these years, I worked hard to design my own classroom lessons to stress understanding and mathematical thinking over a “step by step” process so my students truly comprehended the math behind the algorithm….  I was so pleased and surprised to find that the functional changes that we are making to teaching math are reflective of the strategies that I have found to be most successful with my students….

I truly believe these standards will result in the curricular and instructional changes that New York students need to become college ready and have an opportunity to participate positively in the global economy they will encounter when entering the workplace. The Common Core Learning Standards will help ensure that students are not hindered by poor qualifications and remediation but rather provide them with the footing they need to have real choices about their education, and careers.  Their futures will be in their hands.  

Teachers in other subjects are no less enthusiastic about the Common Core shifts in the way students are learning literacy skills.  The changes start early, according to Rochelle Jensen, an elementary school teacher in Rome, in the Mohawk Valley:

I don’t want a quiet classroom with kids sitting at their desk and hands folded waiting for me to spill out the next lesson. My classroom is filled with inquisitive students gaining knowledge through complex text, using close reading strategies to infer meaning and providing supporting evidence in their responses. When students are doing most of the talking their thinking gets stronger and they can then build on this knowledge when they write.

Andria Finch, an English language arts teacher in Franklin, in the Southern Tier, agrees that close reading leads to better writing:

Because my students now closely analyze authors’ use of language and the ways these authors unfold their stories, not only are they generating their own ideas and providing evidence to support their claims, but their own creative writing has improved tremendously as well. 

And Roberta Faery, a high school social studies teacher and curriculum facilitator in Newfane, in Western New York, says these shifts are leading to gains across the curriculum:

When students know what it means to ‘make a claim’ in their writing they start to write for a purpose and not just because their teacher assigned it. Students have developed as writers.  Now feedback and revisions are key and an essential piece to the writing process.  The students’ time spent on editing and refining their writing has enabled them to develop a much deeper understanding of content.

To be heard above the sometimes strident controversy, teachers are joining pro-common core organizations, such as the New York Educator Voice Fellowship, and stepping forward to pen op eds in support of the standards and tests.  The New York Post’s “Passing the Common Core” series features teacher perspectives and sample lessons at each grade level.  Many of the teachers speaking out are motivated by a vision of equal educational opportunity for our state’s disadvantaged students.  Joshua Cornue, a fourth grade teacher in Rochester, explains:

The Common Core has allowed me to embrace higher expectations for my students. These kids who come from the most impoverished areas of the city, and who have often faced a track record of failure in school, are now coming in with more knowledge and confidence since they have been exposed to higher level work.

Teresa Ranieri, a first grade teacher at P.S. 11 in the Bronx, expresses a similar sentiment in a recent op ed in support of the annual state tests:

The data and results derived from assessments are a path to providing equal opportunity to a quality education for all.  I believe that by providing all students with an education they deserve, and annually measuring their growth and making instructional improvement, we can begin to bridge the inequality gaps in our education system.

Tim O. Mains, superintendent of the Jamestown Public Schools in Western New York, shares his perspective:

These new exams are more sophisticated than those given years ago. The stronger emphasis on skills like problem solving and critical thinking focus on building what students need for success.…  We believe that the tests are one fair measure of how well our students are learning the Common Core standards. The exams become a valuable measure of how well we are doing as a district. 

Educators who have seen first-hand the benefits of the new standards in their own schools and classrooms are making their voices heard.  Michelle Helmer, director of curriculum and instructional coach in the Silver Creek and Forestville School Districts in Western New York, concludes a recent article in the Observer Today with a strong call to action:

Let’s not divert our resources, change our trajectory, or back down. Let’s not settle for reactionary changes to the Common Core Standards in order to calm the political waters or make our work easier when it may leave a wake of superficial learning in its path. Let’s instead continue to support our teachers, leaders and students. Let’s provide the resources, time, and encouragement needed to work for the changes we wish to see in our classrooms for our students.

Please click here to read the third part in this ongoing series.

PPI Series: Standards vs. Curriculum vs. Assessment—What’s the Difference?

PPI Common Core: Here to Stay?

Part three of an ongoing series on higher standards in New York State

When people talk about “Common Core” and higher standards, what exactly are they referring to? In today’s post, I’ll use an analogy to explain the role and purpose of education standards.

In order to earn your driver’s license, you first must be able to demonstrate the knowledge and skills associated with driving.  But the State of New York doesn’t mandate exactly how you learn to drive.  So although the state insists that you know how to parallel park, understand traffic signs, are able to merge onto the highway, etc. (those are the standards), you have some choices as to how to learn these skills and knowledge.  You can choose between a short pre-licensing course or a longer driver’s education course.  You have some freedom to decide where and when to practice driving.  You might decide to review videos and other instructional materials and take a few practice tests, or you might not.  All of those lessons, practice sessions, and materials constitute the curriculum.  The same principle is behind the Common Core standards:  They specify what we expect students to know and be able in to do in each grade to progress and, by the end of high school, to be college- and career-ready.   How to get students to that point—including decisions about curriculum, training, tools, materials, and textbooks—is up to states, districts, schools, and teachers.

Assessments or tests are the instruments the state uses to measure mastery of a set of standards.  States that adopted the Common Core standards were not required to increase the amount of testing.  Whenever standards change, however, any tests that are used to measure mastery of those standards need to be modified to accurately reflect the same content as the new standards.  Thus, for example, when New York State changes any of the rules of the road that drivers are expected to know (e.g., the “Move Over” Law passed in 2012), it has to update the road test and written test to appropriately address the new material.  The degree to which standards, curriculum, and assessments address the same content is called alignment.

Want to learn more about the Common Core standards? Watch for more blog posts in this series, and visit the Public Policy Institute of New York State website. But don’t just take our word for it. You can read the actual standards at www.corestandards.org/.

Please click here to read the second part in this ongoing series.