In a major shift in public education, states across the nation have been implementing a new set of standards known as the Common Core. Common Core appears as a subject in national and local news media and is a constant subject of debate, particularly in conservative circles.
Despite all this attention, Common Core still remains a confusing topic for many people. In this three-part series MarylandReporter.com answers some basic questions about Common Core.
Part 1 focused on Common Core itself and how it was developed.
Part 2 looks at what the new standards mean for Maryland public school systems and their limited options in implementing them.
Part 3 on Thursday will look how the standards are working in Maryland and what they will cost.
The series was edited by associate editor Meg Tully and Part 2 was written by Glynis Kazanjian.
What does adopting Common Core mean for Maryland public schools?
Under Common Core, the goal is to require more in-depth study into fewer topics, with key shifts specifically in the math and English/language arts curriculum.
Students will be tested once in March with a performance-based assessment and once in late May for an end-of-year assessment. Testing windows will be four weeks, compared to two weeks for the annual Maryland State Assessments being phased out.
Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, teacher and principal evaluations will be based partly on student test scores.
In all subject areas for Common Core, educators are being asked to weave multiple angles into each lesson — teaching context, vocabulary and real world applications.
For English/language arts, the new curriculum places a high priority on writing skills that require research and thoughtful evaluation of texts. Writing development is being taught in stages, with identifiable progressions at each grade level. Under the research requirements, students will collect evidence through multiple sources. Students are also being asked to analyze the author’s purpose in using specific language.
While classic literary texts will still be used, the use of non-fiction and informational texts will have a larger role and students are being encouraged to select their own books. Tests would be based on a student’s understanding of what they read rather than recounting a particular story.
In mathematics, students will focus on fewer topics to gain a deeper understanding of key concepts, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
Students will be taught some math concepts earlier and some concepts later, when compared to the old state standards. For example, data/statistical analysis (plotting and interpreting data and graphs), which was taught in elementary school, moved into middle school. As a result, elementary students are spending new time on dividing larger numbers in fourth-grade, instead of fifth-grade, and dividing fractions in fifth-grade instead of sixth-grade.
Tests will no longer be strictly multiple choice. Students will answer questions in multiple steps and sometimes will be asked to describe a situation where the concept is used in a real world setting.
The Common Core math curriculum goes up to Algebra II. Higher level courses such as calculus or discrete math are left to up to local school districts.
Will local school districts be able to opt out of Common Core if they want to choose another curriculum?
The Maryland College and Career Ready Standards, previously called the Maryland Common Core State Curriculum, has little flexibility when it comes to the education framework that educators must follow.
Common Core, which Maryland adopted as its state education curriculum in 2010, is based on measured academic standards and consistent learning goals that students are tested on each year.
Educators are allowed to create their own lesson plans and tailor educational units to the specific needs of students, but they must teach to the standards.
Students will begin to be tested on those standards in the 2014-2015 school year. By school year 2016-2017, principal and teacher evaluations will be partly based on student test scores.
Part of the goal of Common Core is to create a consistent educational standard on a national level, so students in Maryland will be learning the same thing as students in North Carolina or Vermont in any given year or in any given grade.
For example, a teacher will know exactly what standards a fourth grade math student should achieve in units and fractions that year, regardless of the state.
Currently 45 states and the District of Columbia are signed on to Common Core, but states such as Virginia or Texas – who haven’t adopted the standards – would be taught a different curriculum.
Some states that initially signed up for Common Core through President Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative are now renaming their state curriculum by taking Common Core out of the title. Some states are revising and tweaking their curriculums. However, the vast majority of states are not making major curriculum changes to Common Core.
How have other states reacted to the implementation of Common Core?
States attempting to change, revise or fine tune Common Core legislation are on the rise.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reported this year that the number of bills related to changing Common Core has doubled since 2013.
Several states with partial Republican control have attempted to repeal Common Core, but none are expected to be successful, except for Indiana.
Indiana is the only state of the 45 that adopted Common Core that has completely withdrawn from the education curriculum.
Since Common Core began, the number of Common Core bills introduced in statehouses across the nation increased from a modest 42 in 2011 to what will likely be over 400 in 2014.
“I want to stress that a lot of times the intent isn’t to get rid of or repeal the Common Core,” said Daniel Thatcher, a NCSL education analyst. “It can be as simple as a concern about using [student] assessment data for teacher evaluation purposes without having a few more years of data to substantiate the validity of the assessment.”
Examples of state legislative efforts include allowing local districts or schools to opt out of the Common Core aligned tests, delaying implementation, establishing state-led reviews and precluding spending on Common Core implementation activities.
Maryland a good example of national trends
Maryland is a good example of how things are playing out nationally.
The state legislature passed three bills this year on Common Core. They will delay using student testing data for teacher evaluation purposes until the 2016-2017 school year; provide legislative oversight when the state department of education requests federal education waivers; and create a workgroup designed to oversee the implementation of Common Core.
Other states have issued executive orders vowing to keep the federal government out of state and local education decisions. Some have tried rebranding Common Core to distance themselves from the negative stigma that can sometimes be associated with it.
Maryland now refers to its state education curriculum as the Maryland College and Career Ready Standards.