From the NCSM President
Diane J. Briars
The Common Core State Standards Are Here...Now What?
By the time you read this, the final version of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will have been released and many states will be immersed in the process of adopting them. So what do these standards mean for us, as mathematics education leaders? And what will NCSM do to support your work?
The CCSS are a milestone in the standards movement that began just over 20 years ago with the release of the NCTM Curriculum and Standards for School Mathematics in 1989. Curriculum coherence and higher expectations for all students were the goals of the original standards, as they are for CCSS. As part of the 1989 standards writing team, I vividly remember the group's discussion about standards, rather than curriculum, as a vehicle to accomplish this goal, given that education is a state, not a federal responsibility. That CCSS came about because state leaders asked for common standards, recognizing that the current system of individual state standards could not provide the coherence and focus necessary to significantly improve mathematics education nationally, is a major step forward.
The CCSS provide a strong foundation for our work as mathematics education leaders-ensuring that high expectations are set for every student, and that every student has access to rigorous, high quality mathematics curricula and instruction to attain these expectations-as called for in our Mission Statement and PRIME Leadership Framework. However, for this potential to be realized, we as mathematics education leaders need to work proactively to help those whom we lead and influence to interpret the standards fully, and develop coherent, comprehensive plans for implementation.
One of the greatest potential benefits of CCSS is that instructional materials would provide more focused, coherent treatment of mathematics content, since publishers would no longer have to develop materials that satisfy the standards of 50 different states. This coherence and focus will happen only if, during the state-adoption process, any state-determined "additional" standards enhance, rather than undermine, the coherence and focus of CCSS. Please urge your state leaders and boards of education to maintain the coherence of CCSS, and explicitly argue against introducing additional standards that (1) move expectations of fluency with particular content to earlier or later grades, and (2) add substantial amounts of different content to grades.
Another strength of CCSS is its strong emphasis on conceptual understanding and the mathematical practices. For this "standards" emphasis to translate into "instructional" emphasis, we need to provide professional development to help teachers and leaders understand "understanding." What are students who understand particular content able to do? How can this understanding be assessed? How can instruction promote understanding? We also need to help teachers and leaders integrate the mathematical practices into their instruction and encourage them to provide adequate time for this integration to occur.
Standards are only a starting point; assessments are another critical component. The U.S. Department of Education's Race to the Top Assessment Program, with its call for a common, high-quality assessment system that "covers the full range of [the CCSS] standards, elicits complex student demonstrations or applications of knowledge and skills where appropriate, and provides an accurate measure of student achievement across the full performance continuum"1 has the potential to support, rather than hinder, our efforts. Again, we as leaders need to proactively prepare teachers and administrators to assess conceptual understanding and mathematical practices, effectively interpret and use assessment results, and incorporate formative assessment into their practice.
NCSM is committed to supporting your work by addressing issues regarding CCSS implementation in our professional development opportunities, including our Annual Conference, Leadership Academies and Seminars, and in our electronic and print publications. We also plan to develop related tools and materials (e.g., guide for selection of instructional materials aligned to PRIME and CCSS) to help you in your local efforts. We are also investigating collaborations with ASSM, AMTE, and NCTM around the implementation of CCSS.
If there are particular activities or resources you would find useful, please email me with your suggestions. Our mission is to support you.
1 Race to the Top Assessment Program, Application for New Grants, Comprehensive Assessment Systems, CFDA Number: 84.395B, April 6, 2010.