It is well advertised that forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Little publicized is the reality that the public at large is largely unaware of the CCSS, and that those who do know don’t seem to grasp its purpose.
As the Common Core Standards Initiative states on its website, “The Common Core State Standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in the early grades, thus enabling teachers to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well—and to give students the opportunity to master them.” In other words, the voluntary standards are a statement of the core concepts and procedures that its authors believe a student should learn, and a timeline on when they should be learned to “to give students the opportunity to master them.” CCSS leaves it up to the states and the school systems to design a curriculum around these constraints.
Nothing in the CCSS precludes a school system from designing a curriculum that teaches more than the core concepts and procedures required for each grade. For example, a typical on-grade level curriculum could be built around the mastery of the core concepts and procedures, whilst an honors version of the curriculum could explore subjects with greater rigor, richness, and depth. Universities tend to offer introductory physics courses in two “flavors:” algebra based and calculus based. Each caters to a specific group of students. CCSS is not a barrier to implementing an honors or a magnet version of a grade-level course in a similar manner.
Algebra, a common offering in middle and high school is often cited as a prerequisite “for college readiness.” Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), the largest public school system in Maryland, claims “Students who complete Algebra 1 with a ‘C’ or higher by the end of 8th grade are more likely to be successful in science and math courses in high school, as well as on the SAT, one of the entrance exams for college.” Move over to the University of Maryland admissions page and you will discover that “the university expects you, at a minimum, to have completed” coursework that includes, “three years of math, including algebra I or applied math I & II, formal logic or geometry, and algebra II. A fourth year of mathematics is strongly recommended.”
However, CCSS list Algebra I as a high school course. Does it mean that schools must abandon the practice of offering Algebra I in middle school? To the contrary, the Math Standards document, states (on page 84), that “The standards themselves do not dictate curriculum, pedagogy, or delivery of content. In particular, states may handle the transition to high school in different ways. For example, many students in the U.S. today take Algebra I in the 8th grade, and in some states this is a requirement. The K-7 standards contain the prerequisites to prepare students for Algebra I by 8th grade, and the standards are designed to permit states to continue existing policies concerning Algebra I in 8th grade.”
Another misunderstanding is that CCSS, among its other attributes, is designed to ensure that our most prepared and able students learn the maximum amount of mathematics possible. However, the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice are explicit in stating that they “describe varieties of expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students.” By no means do they prescribe a ceiling for mathematical learning.
Some contend that CCSS obviate the need for honors and gifted and talented courses by providing for the able learner to learn the same amount of material from an on-level course. There are two realities that undermine this assertion.
First, no matter what the level of instruction, there will always be students “having outstanding talent and performing, or showing the potential for performing, at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with other students of a similar age, experience, or environment; exhibiting high performance capability in intellectual, creative, or artistic areas; possessing an unusual leadership capacity; or excelling in specific academic fields.
Last Sunday during the second half of Super Bowl XLVII, Jacoby Jones, the Baltimore Ravens receiver wrote his name in the record books with an eleven-second 108-yard sprint for a touchdown. Even among professional athletes he stood out. Similarly, no matter the standards there will be students who can learn faster and deeper than their peers. They will benefit from advanced courses.
Second, there is no evidence that school systems such as Maryland’s largest, have developed on-level curricula that cover material to the depth and breadth of honors courses.
On page 6 of the English Language Arts Standards, the authors of the CCSS state, “The Standards do not define the nature of advanced work for students who meet the Standards prior to the end of high school.”
The CCSS, in all its glory, does not intend to obviate the need for gifted and talented education.