Guest opinion: Math getting new standards

Change is coming in mathematics education for the United States.

The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers are overseeing the development and implementation of new common standards in English language arts and mathematics. To date, 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted these new standards. Washington is one of these states.

The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M) provides the opportunity for districts, states and the country to move forward in a united effort to transform our global market share in mathematics. These standards, which start taking effect in September 2014, are intended to prepare all students for career and college opportunities beyond high school.

Arguably, mathematics is one of the most contested topics in U.S. education. Books have been written, opinions have been shared and tempers have flared. The CCSS-M was developed from research on high-achieving international countries and brings a unified approach to math education. The structure and content of the standards can help our next generation of adults be more confident and proficient with mathematics – two characteristics that are often cited as representing the negative culture around mathematics in the US.

The CCSS-M does this by establishing three instructional shifts: focus: ensuring that we are intentional about the content of mathematics we teach; coherence: ensuring continuity across grade levels and linking major topics within grades; and rigor: paying equal attention to procedural skill/fluency, conceptual understanding and application.

These are considered shifts because math education in the U.S. has never been aligned across states or deliberately organized in a way that builds not only in procedures and skills but also through critical concepts and applications. As we are becoming a country that moves from educating some students in rigorous mathematics to one that educates all students, the CCSS-M has the potential to be the needed ingredient for success.

The move toward common standards has a significant impact on a collaborative effort in math education. Publishers have an increased ability to focus their product instead of publishing material for a variety of state standards. States are working together to develop support materials for schools and their communities, offer professional development for teachers and work with businesses. Colleges and universities can now focus their programs knowing that students from around the U.S. will have a similar experience in mathematics when they enter their institutions. K-12 systems can work in collaboration with colleges, universities and other higher education institutions toward a more seamless transition from high school into college. The inherent benefits of common standards have a direct relationship to student success.

Two common assessment systems are being developed for states to access. Washington is one of 24 states that belong to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The other consortium is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career. With the SBAC system, teachers will have access to a multitude of resources they can use in their classroom as they work with the CCSS-M and prepare their students for assessment.

Pilot tests of both assessment systems are currently under way across the country. The first assessment for all students is scheduled for spring 2015. Both assessment consortia are working with colleges and universities throughout the country to make the assessment part of the transition plan into higher education.

Although no set of standards can ensure success for all students, the potential for collaboration due to common standards is bringing educators across the country together to address significant needs in math education. We frequently see publications reporting that the U.S. struggles to compete in mathematics internationally. U.S. colleges and universities report high percentages of students requiring remedial education in mathematics. Our state assessment data indicate areas of needed growth for students. By working together to tackle issues such as these, we can become a society that embraces mathematics and values what it provides. The Common Core State Standards in math can be the beacon for this vision.

For more information on: the Common Core State Standards, go to www.corestandards.org; the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, go to www.smarterbalanced.org; or Washington State and Common Core State Standards, go to www.k12.wa.us/CoreStandards.

Rick Biggerstaff is the secondary mathematics coordinator for Spokane Public Schools.

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