We are all teachers and learners

April 17, 2015

This response on literacy standards, conversation, and the Common Core State Standards is from Sharon Ritchie, Ed.D., Senior Scientist, FPG Child Development Institute-UNC CH.

I am a strong supporter of the Common Core. From the outset let me qualify that by saying that it is by no means perfect, and that people have perfectly good reasons to question the Standards and to look for revision and improvement. There is no single thing that should not bear up under scrutiny and inquiry.

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

The following quote from the Common Core: “Children are deep thinkers and it is the role of the teacher to capably guide and support them,” succinctly summarizes why I support and advocate for the Common Core Standards. The quote demonstrates real respect for both children and teachers, something that has been sadly lacking in an environment that has, for more than a decade, focused on isolated skill building, right answers, and prescribed curriculum. That environment has been even more strongly enforced for children of color and those who come from less advantaged homes, and put vulnerable children at an even greater disadvantage by depriving them of the use of their voice and their minds. Children need to know that what they care about, what they have to say, and how they feel is important. They need to move beyond basic knowledge to the application of their knowledge to problem solving, analysis, and creative development. They need to have multiple opportunities starting at a very young age to not only talk, but to listen, to participate in a community where everyone’s ideas are important and valued.

Two decades of data examining the minute-by-minute experiences of children indicate that on average there is about 28 minutes of meaningful conversation per day between the teacher and all the children in the classroom. There is about 24 minutes of meaningful collaboration between students. That is not enough. If children are getting less than an hour to express themselves, then teachers are using up more than their share of the space. If we are not hearing from children, how do we know what they understand, what confuses them, what they think? Part of children’s success depends upon their ability to engage in collaborative work. Regular opportunities to collaborate help children develop executive functions that support their ability to solve problems in multiple ways and to work with others to plan and organize. Children who are simply sitting and getting are not having adequate opportunities to develop executive functions.

In its best form, the Common Core advocates for classroom environments  where children feel safe to take risks and experiment with their thinking and have opportunities to communicate their ideas frequently and regularly. Specifically, the English Language Arts Standard requires that students have ample opportunities to take part in a variety of rich, structured conversations—as part of a whole class, in small groups, and with a partner and the Standard for Math across K-3rd grade similarly  stipulates that children should be able to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them and construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

A talented kindergarten teacher describes her practice of letting her students know right from the beginning of the year that:

  • There are lots of different points of view and they are all important
  • Right answers are not as important to her as the students being able to figure out how to solve a problem
  • Everyone makes mistakes–they are natural and we can learn from them
  • Doing your best is the most important thing
  • We are all teachers and learners.

The Common Core supports that teacher. Don’t you wish all children had teachers like that? I do.


What is Developmentally Appropriate Math?

April 15, 2015

Douglas H. Clements, preschool and kindergarten teacher, Kennedy Endowed Chair in Early Childhood Learning, Executive Director, Marsico Institute for Early Learning and Literacy, and one of the members of the Common Core work groups, responds (with assistance from Bill McCallum) on the issue of Math standards will be too challenging for young children.

Perhaps the most common criticism of the Common Core State Standards-Mathematics (CCSS-M) for young children is that they are not “developmentally appropriate” (e.g., Meisels, 2011). Unfortunately, the phrase “developmentally appropriate” too often functions as a Rorschach test for whatever a person wants to see or argue against.

Often, negative evaluations are based on an implicit acceptance of the view that all “fives” can and especially cannot do certain things. However, much of the mathematical thinking that some people say “cannot be done” until age 7 (or whatever) can be learned by children—most children—in high-quality environments. Further, children learn such thinking with understanding and joy—that’s developmentally appropriate.

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Photo Credit: Casey R. Brown

Let’s consider some concrete examples. One concern is that 5-6-year-olds are not “ready” to learn place value. Perhaps the phrase itself—“place value”—raises the issue. Close inspection, however, reveals little reason for worry. First, note that research has identified at least seven developmental levels of learning place value, from very early concepts of grouping to understand the exponential nature of number systems in multiple bases (Clements & Sarama, 2014; Fuson, Smith, & Lo Cicero, 1997; Fuson, Wearne, et al., 1997; Rogers, 2012). Examination of the CCSS-M shows that kindergarten children only need to “Work with numbers 11–19 to gain foundations for place value” (p. 12, emphasis added) and first graders “Understand that the two digits of a two-digit number represent amounts of tens and ones” such as knowing that “The numbers 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 refer to one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine tens (and 0 ones).” Those are challenging but (for vast majority of children) achievable understandings (did you notice how many times the CCSS-M’s goals involve “understanding”)?

Personally, I have many concrete experiences with preschoolers who, given high-quality learning experiences, successfully tackle these ideas and more (Clements & Sarama, 2007, 2008). And love doing it. In Boston, a mother said she wasn’t sure her preschooler could understand mathematical ideas until he told her, “Eleven. That’s just ten and one, isn’t it?”

Talking about the “levels” of place value brings up a two important points. First, when educators use such levels—organized in a learning trajectory—to engage all children in meaningful mathematics at the right level for each—developmental appropriateness is ensured. Second, the Common Core was developed by first writing learning trajectories—at least the developmental progressions of levels of thinking. (Criticisms that the CCSS-M were “top-down,” starting with high school, e.g., Meisels, 2011, are simply incorrect.) Thus, learning trajectories are at the core of the Common Core.

Let’s take another example: arithmetic problems. Missing addend problems are a first grade standard. Some argue that tasks such as “fill in the blank: 3 + _ = 5” are cognitively out of range for children until, say, 2nd or 3rd grade. Some students may stumble if, unprepared, they are given such tasks in that form. However, most 4- to 5-year-olds in high-quality environments, when asked, “Give me 5 cubes. OK, now watch, I’m going to hide some! [Hides 2 in one hand, then shows the 3 in the other hand.] How many am I hiding?” will eagerly answer, “Two!” Format and interaction matter. So does working through research-based learning in counting and especially conceptual subitizing—quickly recognizing parts and wholes of small numbers (Clements, 1999).

The CCSS-M can help teachers with such work. Historically, most word problem types in U.S. textbooks have been simple one-step problem types. Other countries’ children are solving many types, including more complex two-step problems (Stigler, Fuson, Ham, & Kim, 1986). Further, given the opportunity, young U.S. children can solve a wide range of problems, even beyond the CCSS-M, such multiplication and division problems with remainders (Carpenter, Ansell, Franke, Fennema, & Weisbeck, 1993).

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Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

One might still argue that the CCSS-M goals are inappropriate for some group of children. But this will be true of any set of standards that pose a worthwhile challenge to them. And our children deserve that challenge. Based on learning trajectories, teachers should always be working on the challenging-but-achievable levels for their class and for the individuals in it. But that does not mean we allow children starting at lower levels to stay behind others. That would relegate them to a trajectory of failure (see Vincent Costanza’s blog). Instead, we should work together to help them build up their mathematical foundations. And given this support, they do.

So, the concern of “developmental inappropriateness” is a misunderstanding. There are others.

  1. “The Common Core means that other domains, such as social-emotional development, will be de-emphasized.” The good news there is that high-quality implementations of mathematics curricula in preschools have shown not only increase in meaningful mathematics proficiencies, but also transfer to other domains, such as language and self-regulation (Clements, Sarama, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2013; Julie Sarama, Clements, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2012; Julie Sarama, Lange, Clements, & Wolfe, 2012). Further, preschool curricula can successfully combine social-emotional, literacy, language, science and mathematics (e.g., Julie Sarama, Brenneman, Clements, Duke, & Hemmeter, in press)—all the while enhancing, rather than competing with, play-based approaches (Farran, Aydogan, Kang, & Lipsey, 2005). Finally, those who say that “there should be time for both learning literacy, math, and science, and for play and games”—inadvertently show their limited knowledge of early math education by repeating one of the ubiquitous false dichotomies of early education. Two of the ways to guide learning in these subject-matter domains are through games and play.
  2. “The Common Core is a federal curriculum.” Wrong on both counts. First, it was created by the states—the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers—not the U.S. government. Second, the Common Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum (see Dorothy Strickland’s blog). It guides what goals to aim for but not how or what curriculum to teach.
  3. “Teachers voices were not heard.” Teachers were involved all the way. Many states, such as Arizona, convened meetings of teachers to review the standards at each of three cycles of review. Also, the CCSS-M were supported and validated by such organizations as the NEA, AFT, and NCTM, as well as early childhood organizations such as the NAEYC (see Jere Confrey’s post and this joint statement publicly expressing NAEYC’s and the NAECSS’s support for the Standards,and Clements, Sarama, & DiBiase, 2004, in which leaders of NAEYC contributed to a work that was used heavily in the CCSS-M).
  4. “The Common Core emphasizes rote skills taught by direct instruction.” First, the CCSS-M does not tell how to teach. But its descriptions of goals for children could not be further from this misconception. Consider the introduction to grade 2, which states (in concert with NCTM’s Curriculum Focal Points) that children “develop, discuss, and use efficient, accurate, and generalizable methods to compute sums and differences of whole numbers.” Second-graders develop and discuss strategies, then use them in problem solving.
  5. “There were no early childhood teachers or professionals involved.” As one of the contributors to the CCSS-M, I—a former preschool and kindergarten teacher who continuously works in preschools and primary-grade classrooms, with children and teachers—I can only hope these authors simply were sloppy in checking their facts.

Do we think everything is perfect? Of course not. Not even the content of the CCSS-M is (or ever will be) perfect. But only further implementation and study will give us an improved set of standards. Further, we wish that organizations would implement carefully and slowly, building up (from pre-K) and supporting all teachers and other educators in learning about, working on, and evaluating the CCSS-M. Schools that have done that report success, with teachers amazed by what their students can do (Kelleher, 2014). Appreciating what their children are learning means they not only stick with it, but they also improve every year (Clements, Sarama, Wolfe, & Spitler, 2014). We wish curriculum, and especially high-stakes assessments, would be carefully piloted with extensive research on outcomes, including unanticipated outcomes, before they are accepted and more widely disseminated (Julie Sarama & Clements, 2015) (or rejected and not used). We wish more educators would realize what’s truly developmentally inappropriate is present-day kindergarten curricula that “teach” children what they already know (Engel, Claessens, & Finch, 2013).

But we do think that too many find it easier to dramatically warn of all that could go wrong working with the Common Core (“Students will be pressured!” “There are not CC curricula yet!” “The kids will fail!”). Too few take the more difficult road of building positive solutions. Let’s stop biting the finger, and look where it’s pointing.

 

References

 Carpenter, T. P., Ansell, E., Franke, M. L., Fennema, E. H., & Weisbeck, L. (1993). Models of problem solving: A study of kindergarten children’s problem-solving processes. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 24, 428-441.

Clements, D. H. (1999). Subitizing: What is it? Why teach it? Teaching Children Mathematics, 5, 400-405.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2007). Effects of a preschool mathematics curriculum: Summative research on the Building Blocks project. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 38, 136-163.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2008). Experimental evaluation of the effects of a research-based preschool mathematics curriculum. American Educational Research Journal, 45, 443-494.

Clements, D. H., & Sarama, J. (2014). Learning and teaching early math: The learning trajectories approach (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., & DiBiase, A.-M. (2004). Engaging young children in mathematics: Standards for early childhood mathematics education. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2013). Longitudinal evaluation of a scale-up model for teaching mathematics with trajectories and technologies: Persistence of effects in the third year. American Educational Research Journal, 50(4), 812 – 850. doi: 10.3102/0002831212469270

Clements, D. H., Sarama, J., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2014). Sustainability of a scale-up intervention in early mathematics: Longitudinal evaluation of implementation fidelity. Early Education and Development, 26(3), 427-449. doi: 10.1080/10409289.2015.968242

Engel, M., Claessens, A., & Finch, M. A. (2013). Teaching students what they already know? The (mis)alignment between mathematics instructional content and student knowledge in kindergarten. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 35(2), 157–178. doi: 10.3102/0162373712461850

Farran, D. C., Aydogan, C., Kang, S. J., & Lipsey, M. (2005). Preschool classroom environments and the quantity and quality of children’s literacy and language behaviors. In D. Dickinson & S. Neuman (Eds.), Handbook of early literacy research (pp. 257-268). New York, NY: Guilford.

Fuson, K. C., Smith, S. T., & Lo Cicero, A. (1997). Supporting Latino first graders’ ten-structured thinking in urban classrooms. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 28, 738-760.

Fuson, K. C., Wearne, D., Hiebert, J. C., Murray, H. G., Human, P. G., Olivier, A. I., . . . Fennema, E. H. (1997). Children’s conceptual structures for multidigit numbers and methods of multidigit addition and subtraction. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 28, 130-162.

Kelleher, M. (2014). Common Core for Young Learners. Harvard Education Letter, 30 (4).

Meisels, S. J. (2011). Common Core standards pose dilemmas for early childhood. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/common-core-standards-pose-dilemmas-for-early-childhood/2011/11/28/gIQAPs1X6N_blog.html

Rogers, A. (2012). Steps in developing a quality whole number place value assessment for years 3-6: Unmasking the “experts”. Paper presented at the Mathetatics Education Research Group of Australasia, Singapore.

Sarama, J., Brenneman, K., Clements, D. H., Duke, N. K., & Hemmeter, M. L. (in press). Connect4Learning (C4L): The Preschool Curriculum. Lewisville, NC: Gryphon House.

Sarama, J., & Clements, D. H. (2015). Scaling up early mathematics interventions: Transitioning with trajectories and technologies. In B. Perry, A. MacDonald & A. Gervasoni (Eds.), Mathematics and transition to school (pp. 153-169). New York, NY: Springer.

Sarama, J., Clements, D. H., Wolfe, C. B., & Spitler, M. E. (2012). Longitudinal evaluation of a scale-up model for teaching mathematics with trajectories and technologies. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 5(2), 105-135.

Sarama, J., Lange, A., Clements, D. H., & Wolfe, C. B. (2012). The impacts of an early mathematics curriculum on emerging literacy and language. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27, 489-502. doi: 10.1016/j.ecresq.2011.12.002

Stigler, J. W., Fuson, K. C., Ham, M., & Kim, M. S. (1986). An analysis of addition and subtraction word problems in American and Soviet elementary mathematics textbooks. Cognition and Instruction, 3, 153-171.

 

 

 



Why CCSS-M Grades K-3 is developmentally appropriate and internationally competitive

April 13, 2015

In this post, Jere Confrey, Joseph D. Moore Distinguished University Professor, Science, Technology,  Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Department, College of Education, North Carolina State University, discusses why the Common Core State Standards for Math can be considered developmentally appropriate. A more detailed version of this analysis, including this chart and others, is available here.

1. The CCSS-M development process drew on teachers and experts in early childhood math education. 

 According to Jason Zimba, a lead CCSS-M author, feedback was obtained from state directors, elementary teachers, and national experts (Fact Sheet, Student Achievement Partners. The NCR’s 2009 report, Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity was used. The National Association for the Education of Young Children in conjunction with the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in States issued a joint statement publicly expressing their support for the Standards.

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

2. Standards are not meant to be read to children.

They represent professional knowledge in the field for teachers–just as in the case of medical knowledge, the Standards are not expected to be communicated verbatim to patients by doctors.

3. Standards typically state a clear target in the first sentence that describes the expectation, followed by research-based strategies for student success.

 After that, the Standards include suggestions for research-backed strategies for learning, to ensure that the students’ learning is made as conceptually rich and efficient as possible. Math is a language of connections.

Here is first grade example: “Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8+6 = 8+2+4 = 10+4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13-4 = 13-3-1 = 9)…and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6+7 by creating the known equivalent 6+6+1 = 12+1 = 13).”  These strategies, from the NRC’s Adding It Up, are a toolbox for a teacher to build on children’s ideas to reach towards the development eventually applying standard algorithms.

4. The Standards are consistent with international standards.

In Informing Grades 1-6 Mathematics Standards Development, AIR took the standards from Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong, and created a composite set. The major topics in the numbers strand for all three countries follow a similar pattern, across grades, dictated by the logic of mathematics learning. In the chart below on understanding and reading whole numbers, CCSS-M is compared to this composite chart. If we claim our standards are not developmentally appropriate, then how is it that other countries achieve these outcomes? Note, these countries do not offer Kindergarten.

Table 1. Composite Standards for Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea, with the Addition of the CCSS-M. Composite Standards: Numbers—Whole Numbers for Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea (AIR, p. 8)

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The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum

April 10, 2015

Dorothy Strickland, NIEER Distinguished Research Fellow, responds to specific issues raised in various venues by questioners, considering whether literacy standards and related assessments can be developmentally appropriate.

Concern: Kindergarten standards are not appropriate for children that age. Assessment related to reaching standards will not be developmentally appropriate, and results may be misused.

Much of the concern about CCSS relates to two areas–curriculum and assessment–and not to the standards themselves. Please note: The Common Core State Standards are NOT a curriculum. The curriculum must be developed by those responsible for instruction. This might include collaborative efforts by State Departments of Education and school district personnel.

Curriculum

Regarding issues related to the absence of play: Developmental appropriateness has long been a part of our early childhood agenda. Fortunately, there is NOTHING in the CCSS to encourage concerns that there is no room for developmentally appropriate practice. Playful and experiential learning have always been essential elements of an early childhood curriculum and instruction and remain so.

Key Design Considerations are included in the introduction (p.4) of the CCSS: An integrated model of literacy is recommended. That is, the language arts (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) will be integrated with each other and with content of interest and importance to young children. Research and media skills will be blended into the Standards as a whole.

story time 3Educators familiar with EC know that the integration of process (ELA) and content (how plants grow, the weather, etc.) is fundamental to theme-based or project-based curriculum and instruction. This has been a basic tenet of early childhood literacy and it remains alive and well. Children explore/research questions related to topics of importance and interest to them. Books, objects, hands-on activities, and media of various types are used to explore topics/themes with children. Teachers engage children as they read aloud to them and discuss what is read. Children are also involved in shared /interactive reading. They are encouraged to follow-up independently as they explore the topics on their own through reading/pretend reading and drawing/writing about topics under investigation.

None of this is new to the field. However, the CCSS promote attention to specific goals, such as: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text. At the kindergarten level, the text is likely read/shared with the children by the teacher. This Standard encourages listening, responding, sharing ideas. Equally important, children are learning about a topic of interest to them. This will include new information and concepts and often includes new vocabulary or “known” vocabulary used in a new way.

A focus on thinking with text, and problem solving is encouraged. Again, this is meant to be done in a developmentally appropriate way with an emphasis on gradually increasing expectations throughout the grades. The CCSS are intended to promote skills/strategies that go beyond memorization and foster the application of what is learned in new situations.

The use of technology to support curriculum and instruction is encouraged. Indeed, texts may be traditional print or digital. And, we must not forget oral texts–these relate to listening.

Assessment

Much of the concern expressed about CCSS relates to assessment. Excessive assessment is, indeed, an issue in some states. However, like curriculum, it is not a function of the CCSS. An increased reliance on Summative Assessments, in particular, has caused concern among many educators. Purposes and uses include to:

  • inform educators, students, parents, and the public about the status of student achievement
  • hold schools accountable for meeting achievement goals
  • inform relevant education policies re: areas in need of attention and resource allocation
  • adjust/differentiate instruction according to student needs
  • gauge performance of teachers and principals.

While these purposes/uses have always existed, they have taken on new emphasis in recent years (especially their use as tools in educator evaluation) and are often linked to the CCSS. For those whose states have adopted the PARCC assessment and others, I encourage a look at the Model Content Frameworks developed to bridge the Standards with the PARCC Assessments. They can be found online at www.parcconline.

  • Professional Development should make extensive use of the Model Content Frameworks that accompany the PARCC assessment. The Model Content Frameworks are:
    • a voluntary resource not a curriculum
    • designed to help teachers better understand the standards and how key elements of the assessment design interact with the standards within a grade and across grade levels.

Research Support

Appendix A: Common Core Standards for ELA/Literacy: Supporting Research and GlossarySimilar materials may be found in other appendices.



Teachers discussing assessment in preschool

April 8, 2015

This response is by Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers.

Assessment related to reaching standards will not be developmentally appropriate, and results may be misused.

I sat down with a group of prekindergarten educators in New York City recently to talk about how they assess how their students are doing. The conversation began slowly. A few mentioned that they feel overwhelmed by the many different assessments they are asked to use; others noted how they feel pressure to be sure that these assessments show that their kids are ready for kindergarten.

“We know that these kids have to be at a certain level in kindergarten,” said Zara Ziff, a teacher for the past 11 years. “Every time we turn around, we’re assessing them.”

children in class (3)Then the conversation turned to play-based learning. It was as if someone had flipped a light switch. Around the table, faces lit up—voices lifted in animated, excited tones. To see the joy flooding the room made me think of how much joy these teachers infuse in their students when they are able to guide them with developmentally appropriate activities that meet them where they are.

“For some of them, the only way they know how to express themselves right now is through playing,” said Angela Russell, a teacher for the past 10 years.

“They express themselves without fear,” said Norah Edwards, a 29-year veteran teacher.

Play helps their students learn how to communicate, how to work in teams, how to solve problems. And it helps educators understand what their students are learning.

“Play is so important because not every kid is going to want to come in here and just start drawing and writing and learning numbers. Some kids come in and don’t even know how to behave when their parents aren’t around, and they get scared because their moms aren’t there,” said Gyasi Daniel, a pre-K para-educator. “When you’re playing with them, they get comfortable, they get adjusted to school—and they say, I can be myself here. That’s what is really important about pre-K.”

Years of research shows that the best way to assess the progress of our early learners is through the expertise of teachers who know how to observe and interpret young children’s activities and behavior. Yet early childhood educators are being forced by states across the country to use what they perceive as developmentally inappropriate practices in these crucial early learning years under the guise of needing to prepare for K-3 Common Core assessments.

According to those I spoke with in New York City, play-based learning should comprise up to 60 percent of the school day. Instead, they are finding that testing-based assessments are taking up more and more of their time. Angela noted that she is currently using three assessments with her students.

The AFT is working to help educators like Zara, Angela, Norah, and Gyasi infuse a joy of learning in our youngest learners by keeping standardized tests out of our pre-K through second-grade classrooms. At the same time, we are working to ensure that early childhood educators are included in all conversations about the rollout and implementation of the Common Core—to ensure that the needs of our youngest learners are addressed.

We believe that assessments should be used to help teachers take an inventory at the launch of the school year to find out where their students are starting from, so they can then shape their instruction to get them where they need to go, as Norah suggested.

Ultimately, we need to put our teachers in the driver’s seat and help them to infuse our youngest learners with a lifelong love of learning—and we need to ensure that any and all assessments don’t get in the way of that.

“You want all children to have a love of learning,” said Karen Alford, vice president for elementary schools of the United Federation of Teachers. “It begins here in pre-K. That’s why play is so important. The hands-on experiential learning is so valuable. They will get to the pencils and the bubble test. That will come. But this is the foundation.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten visited PS 184 in Brooklyn to attend a launch event for a new toolkit for staff and families: Transitioning to Kindergarten. For more information, visit the AFT’s early childhood Web page.


Parents just don’t understand . . .and for good reason!

April 6, 2015

Vincent Costanza, Executive Director, Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge, New Jersey Department of Education, and parent, responds on the issue of Parents don’t understand the CCSS and are concerned about what they mean for their children.

As a state policy maker, early childhood professional, and elected school board member in my home district, I participate in many discussions about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While it would be easy to go into educator or policy mode in addressing some of these questions, those perspectives dissipate and become subservient to my lens as a father of an 8-year-old girl.

Given the controversy that currently exists around CCSS and the associated assessments (a quick Google search will yield plenty of evidence for this) parents have plenty of reason to wonder what these standards are really about. While some of the commentary regarding the standards has been negative, as a parent, I search for someone to answer this question for me, “Which standard should my daughter not be learning?”

Blog set 5 (1)With the intense dialogue around the standards, it’s often difficult to focus exactly on what the standards say and exactly what our children are expected to learn. Of course, this puts parents in a difficult position and makes it hard to ask the right questions, advocate for our children, and be true partners in the success of our children. With this said, there are two common and thoughtful questions I’m often asked by parents, friends, and family members alike, which I’ll address below.

Where do these new standards come from?

First, the CCSS were established in back in 2010, so they are not exactly new. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) led the development of the CCSS. Although a common criticism is that the CCSS initiative is an attempt by the federal government to dictate education in states, such a sentiment is inaccurate. In fact, it was governors and state education Chiefs who recognized the economic reality that it makes no sense to have children throughout the country aiming for different sets of standards when our children will live in an increasingly flat country and world. After all, there’s a good chance that some of the jobs in Seattle, for instance, will be filled by people from New Jersey. Does it really make sense for children throughout the country to have different learning targets?

 What do the Standards require?

Unlike the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach of previous state standards (ask any stressed teacher who has needed to jam in lessons to cover standards how well this works for your child), the CCSS are much more focused and emphasize depth over breath. Moreover, as standards that set learning targets for our children, they are NOT a curriculum. Hence, the CCSS do not mandate how teachers must assist our children in meeting these targets.

This point is essential because there is much conversation regarding how the standards are curtailing the curricular offerings available to our children. This leads me to wonder, Did I miss something here? Were there grand curricular offerings before 2010? For instance, was there a proliferation of play-based learning experiences in kindergarten before these common standards? Did teachers organize their understandings of child development by systematically using performance-based and formative assessment? Although early childhood professionals have wanted quality adult-child interactions with meaningful investigations that teachers assess authentically since long before my kindergarten teacher days, there’s plenty of evidence that this type of teaching hasn’t happened for quite a while.

What these standards do provide is a “staircase” of increasing complexity with the goal that all children become college and career ready. As such, they offer a clear design, central goals, common language, and high standards. Cross-curricular teaching that emphasizes problem solving, persistence, abstract reasoning, and the ability to construct arguments and critique reasoning is at the core of these standards. Since I know a few adults who could use assistance with these skills, I’m assuming they were never given the chance to practice solving problems at an early age. I’m certainly happy that CCSS does this for our children.

A few important considerations

First, like ALL standards, these standards are not perfect. As an educator, I notice standards that children will undoubtedly struggle with in particular grade levels. For instance, I wonder how many children will not be able to do CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.K.2.D in kindergarten:

 Isolate and pronounce the initial, medial vowel, and final sounds (phonemes) in three-phoneme (consonant-vowel-consonant, or CVC) words.1 (This does not include CVCs ending with /l/, /r/, or /x/.)

However, since some children will be able to do so easily, the question should focus on how teachers respond to children who experience the standards differently. Again, this is a question for all standards.

Second, as an early childhood professional, I remain concerned that CCSS only represents two domains of development. How teachers integrate and simply appreciate other domains of learning and development, such as Social-Emotional Development and Approaches toward Learning, needs much more conversation.

Lastly, as a parent, I wonder how the curriculum my daughter experiences daily, fits in, and aligns to CCSS. I understand that CCSS is not a curriculum, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that work needs to be done on the curricular front.

Given the volume of conflicting information that exists around CCSS, below are some resources that can help arm parents to ask the best questions and be the best advocates for children. The way that this initiative is implemented will shape the academic careers of a generation of children, my 8-year-old included. Now those are high stakes!

Resources

http://www.cgcs.org/domain/36

http://www.corestandards.org/what-parents-should-know/\

http://www.pta.org/parents/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2583

http://www.naeyc.org/topics/common-core


 Collaboration and complexity

April 3, 2015

The first responses addressing concerns about CCSS in early childhood education are from Kathleen A. Paciga, Columbia College Chicago;  Jessica L. Hoffman, Winton Woods City School District; and William H. Teale, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Concern: The standards are complex and extensive, and there is little guidance for teachers to implement them in Kindergarten classrooms.

On the one hand, yes, the standards are “complex” in the sense that they are communicated in a complicated document that represents high-level goals for student learning. Furthermore, they do not prescribe how a teacher should actually teach each standard, which speaks to the issue of little guidance. This lack of guidance has its downside: it can easily lead teachers to employ a didactic pedagogical approach to kindergarten literacy education, thinking that each standard is best “taught” directly, thus missing opportunities for authentic language and literacy practices, embedded in activities with larger conceptual goals.
child raising hand in classOn the other hand, we have been quite underwhelmed by the lack of complexity of the learning expectations in a number of standards at the kindergarten level. Take for instance, Reading Standards for Literature Standard 6, “Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.” At the kindergarten level, the standard reads, “With prompting and support, name the author and illustrator of a story and define the role of each in telling the story,” which contributes almost nothing to the development of the anchor standard. We would support a higher standard to be achieved with support, such as, “With guidance and support, describe differences among characters’ points of view and how those differences affect character feelings and actions.”

The problem with a number of the kindergarten ELA standards is that they represent goals for independent mastery to be demonstrated by the end of the school year. Over-emphasis on what kindergartners are expected to do independently (or with minimal support) can easily translate into classroom practice narrowly focused on very basic skills (often unrelated to the anchor standards), with few of the higher-level foci of the anchor standards being modeled and supported in early education. There are many other places in the more complex strands of the standards where standards at the K level either: (1) do not include a grade level standard, or (2) “dumb down” what children are expected to do in K, even with adult support (see extended discussion and detailed examples in Hoffman, Paciga, & Teale, 2014).

To be clear, we are not arguing to up the ante for kindergarteners’ independent reading performance. However, we do argue strongly for upping their daily participation in collaborative experiences with teachers and peers around complex literacy tasks that are better aligned to later grade level and anchor standards, e.g., modeling and discussion through think alouds and guiding questions in interactive read alouds of complex texts and shared writing activities. It is important to remember that students require much collaborative practice with complex literacies in early childhood before they will be able to demonstrate proficiency independently in later grades.


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