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Common core standards and California's community colleges

Elementary Algebra students at San Jose City College
Elementary Algebra students at San Jose City College
Hasan Z. Rahim

The Common Core Standards have been designed for our K-12 students. Shifts from current standards include practice with complex texts, reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from texts for fiction and non-fiction, building knowledge through content-rich non-fiction for English Language Arts (ELA) and greater focus on fewer topics, linking topics and thinking across grades, more rigor and real-world applications for mathematics. The standards have been adopted by 44 states.

How does the Common Core Standards affect California’s community colleges? As explained in a recent statement by the Board of Admissions of the University of California (UC) regarding the math curriculum, “High school students who do not successfully complete California Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCCSSM) may resolve any gaps in their studies at a California Community College by taking appropriate prerequisite coursework before enrolling in a UC-transferable math or statistics course … University of California has used Intermediate Algebra as the “gateway” course to UC-transferable math and statistics courses … Use of Intermediate Algebra as the prerequisite for UC-transferable courses is problematic … It will not be appropriate to use traditional Intermediate Algebra as the primary standard for demonstrating the minimal level of mathematical competence for admission to UC … future UC-transferable courses will have prerequisites that align with the CCCSSM … UC will not assess the content of such courses. The prerequisite courses will be identified and developed by the faculty at the community colleges ... The key is to ensure that students have met the requirements of CCCSSM, not that they have completed a specific course.”

The key sentence is: “The prerequisite courses will be identified and developed by the faculty at the community colleges.”

In other words, it is the responsibility of the math faculties at community colleges to ensure that their new algebra courses align with the common core math curriculum so that students who come to fill the gaps in their math education are able to master the relevant topics with the right amount of rigor.

Since the current algebra texts at community colleges are not fully aligned with common core, math teachers need to consider the following guidelines suggested in the CCSSM:

For Algebra I, instructional time should focus on four critical areas: (1) deepen and extend understanding of linear and exponential relationships; (2) contrast linear exponential relationships with each other and engage in methods for analyzing, solving, and using quadratic functions; (3) extend the laws of exponents to square and cube roots; and (4) apply linear models to data that exhibit a linear trend.”

For Algebra II, instructional time should focus on four critical areas: (1) relate arithmetic of rational expressions to arithmetic of rational numbers; (2) expand understanding of functions and graphing to include trigonometric functions; (3) synthesize and generalize functions and extend understanding of exponential functions to logarithmic functions; and (4) relate data display and summary statistics to probability and explore a variety of data collection methods.

Meeting these requirements will require revising the content of the current elementary and intermediate algebra courses, as well as rewriting student learning objectives (SLOs). It may also require a semester-long course to include, among other topics, geometry, trigonometry, and probability and statistics.

This is a major task. Math teachers at California’s community colleges are already collaborating with each other to revise their math texts. At San Jose City College, for instance, efforts are underway to revise the content of the elementary and intermediate algebra courses so that students can transfer to CSU and UC system once they pass the required algebra courses.

California’s community college English departments are also revising their textx so that they are aligned with the Common Core standards for English.