California schools are actively working toward the successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards and Smarter Balanced assessments. This is a multiyear effort and represents an important step toward better preparing students for what comes after high school.
By setting a high bar in the classroom for students, we help ensure that children of all backgrounds have access to a quality education to better prepare for college, career and life. Nevertheless, many have been frustrated with the Common Core math standards and have accused it of being overly complex and difficult. Frustrations during periods of change are part of the growing pains that often come with new approaches. Challenges will arise as we implement a system that builds a better foundation for students, but we must stay the course as the long-lasting benefits of Common Core have the potential to far outweigh these early bumps in the road.
These standards require a new way of thinking and strive to address the inadequacies of previous standards. Common Core standards are in line with the skills that all students need to become 21st century learners and better equipped for a global economy that is increasingly competitive and always evolving. The elevated standards and outcomes replace an outdated system that yielded inconsistent and, in too many circumstances, sub-par results. For example, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, in 2011, 75% of California’s eighth-graders were not proficient in national math standards.
Common Core standards set expectations for what students should know at each grade level, such as being able to count to 100 in kindergarten and to calculate the slope of a line in middle school. It is up to teachers and school leaders to decide how to achieve those goals. Common Core math standards are a progression of concepts, making use of content rich mathematical problems while moving away from a skill-and-drill style of learning. The standards enforce the simple mathematical concepts valued under the previous curriculum, such as the memorization of multiplication tables in the third grade, while also encouraging deeper learning and mastery of the material.
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As a high school math teacher who has been using Common Core in my classroom, I can already identify an improvement in how students approach problems and think through potential solutions. My students are better able to apply concepts across distinct math problems and can then communicate how they arrived at that solution. The critical thinking and overall math skills they are developing facilitates better conversations about key math concepts, which continually result in deeper comprehension.
As part of this work, our district has been teaching kids to work more collaboratively in the classroom and to become more comfortable partnering with other students. This fosters an improved learning environment, as each student brings different knowledge and experiences to the table and can learn new approaches from others.
My high school students are gaining the real-world skills and academic abilities required for success during and after high school, and that have been long called for by employers and higher education leaders alike.
I admit that the process has not always been easy, but our hard work continues to pay off. And for my students, they are building the foundation they need for the rest of their lives. While there have been challenges, which will continue as we move forward, there is also positive growth occurring in the classroom daily. We have a long way to go to finish out the year strong but I am proud of the progress my students are making.
As California transitions to Common Core, it is important to keep in mind that the process takes time and we cannot lose sight of our endgame: student success.
As implementation continues, just know that classrooms across the state, like mine in the heart of the Valley, are moving the needle day-by-day to help close the achievement gap and improve student outcomes.