Sunday, July 25, 2010

CMC Statement on the actions of the ACSC

 July 24, 2010

On July 15, the California Academic Content Standards Commission (ACSC) approved the recommendation for adoption of an augmented version of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics to the State Board of Education (SBE). The California Mathematics Council (CMC), a statewide organization of classroom teachers, mathematics educators, mathematicians, and parents, endorses this recommendation.

Twelve years ago California started an ambitious project, development and implementation of state-wide standards with the goal of algebra for all in 8th grade.  However, over the years we learned and experienced the shortcomings of our state standards in mathematics: too many standards, lack of focus and coherence, and the lack of 8th grade standards for students not prepared to take algebra. The augmented CCSS improves our current state standards by addressing all of these issues.

Arguments have been made that the recommended kindergarten through 7th grade standards do not adequately prepare students to take Algebra I in 8th grade. CMC disagrees. In the early grades, the CCSS have placed a much greater emphasis on number sense and other foundational skills so important for success in mathematics. Many students who struggle in algebra are weak in these foundational skills, which lead to a lack of understanding of important topics such as fractions, ratio, proportion, and similarity. By following the California Standards Test (CST) data for the first group of students to be assessed on their ability to master our current state standards from kindergarten through 8th grade, it is obvious that these standards do not adequately prepare all students for algebra. The longer students take math, the worse they do regardless of ethnicity. Overall, there is a 12-percentage point drop in scores from 2nd to 7th grade. If the goal is to have all 8th graders taking algebra, we need to do a better job of preparing them.

When California created the current standards in 1998, kindergarten through 7th grade standards were developed along with secondary course level standards: Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II. The goal was that all students would eventually take Algebra I in 8th grade and be successful in that course. The lack of 8th grade standards other than algebra had unintended negative consequences for both districts and students. Districts that tested students in a course such as a two-year Algebra I or Algebra Readiness had to assess with the General Math CST, which is considered below grade level by the federal government.  Additionally, the state of California penalizes schools by reducing the Academic Performance Index (API) score for schools when students take the General Math CST instead of the Algebra I CST in 8th grade.  To avoid this sanction, many districts placed all 8th grade students in algebra whether they were ready or not. Students, who were unprepared, were set up for failure by the people who tried to ensure their success.  In 2008-2009, 54% of all 8th graders took the Algebra CST, but only 44% of these students scored proficient or above. About 80,000 more students took the Algebra CST as 8th graders than were proficient and above in all of 7th grade. Thus many, if not most, of these students were inadequately prepared for a course they likely repeated the following year. In 2008-2009, 13% of 11th graders and 26% of 10th graders were still taking the Algebra CST with only 8% and 11% of those students scoring proficient or above respectively. While algebra is important, it is equally important to ensure that students have the opportunity to be successful in algebra the first time they take it.

The newly recommended CCSS standards, which include the Standards for Mathematical Practice, provide an opportunity for California K – 8 students to build a solid foundation with experiences in mathematical thinking that will lead to stronger and deeper understanding of mathematics. The CCSS were designed so that students are prepared for algebra and beyond.

Because many of our current students are inadequately prepared for 8th grade algebra, the ACSC recommended options for generating success: a set of CCSS that include Algebra 1 in the 8th grade in addition to the 8th grade CCSS standards as written. While some may see this action as a form of tracking, this is an alternative for students other than repeating courses covering the same content. Failure in a course for which they are inadequately prepared has a more damaging effect than having an extra year to build a solid foundation for success.  Strong mathematics instruction coupled with the CCSS standards, will prepare students from kindergarten on to be successful in algebra in grade 8.

Historically, California has offered options in completing mathematics requirements for students.  Students could enroll in Advance Placement (AP) classes or take the Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II classes without the AP designation.  Both of these student populations were able to pursue college entry, regardless of the option chosen.  This precedence in our state exemplifies that options for mathematics instruction can be offered without creating a tracking mechanism leading to remediation.  However, this is only part of the picture.  Foundational to CMC is the belief that all students have the capacity to become mathematically competent and confident when provided a rigorous and challenging mathematical program supported by high expectations.  While we are pleased that some students have had flexibility in how they pursue advanced mathematics, we are discouraged that a very large segment of our student population has been left out of the equation entirely. The current set of options, which provides success for some students, does not address the fact that it is children of color, children of low income and children who do not speak English who end up with limited access to or success in the course that serves as the gateway to college and career success. Taking Algebra 1 ad nauseam is not a viable option for students. CMC recommends that other options for meeting the needs of the diverse student population in our state must be considered if we are truly committed to equity.

Equity is not as simple as placement in an algebra class or a declaration of algebra enrollment at a predetermined grade. If that were all that mattered, we would not be struggling with this very emotional issue now. Genuine equity unites words and actions in the development of a plan that assures students emerge from the algebra class successful and ready to learn more mathematics. For more than 75 years, CMC has been a professional organization dedicated to effective classroom instruction. As educators, we have much to bring to the conversation about moving all of our children through algebra and into advanced mathematics instruction. We are confident that with thoughtful dialogue that includes a critical review of our instructional data, our state can develop viable options that address the needs of all of our students, regardless of their starting point in learning mathematics.  

While our current state standards may have been considered world class when they were designed, they were based on information and research that is now 15 years old. Since then we have learned a great deal more about how other countries teach mathematics and how children learn. The developers of the CCSS used this new information to create standards that are internationally benchmarked and prepare students for career and college readiness.

CMC congratulates the members of the Academic Content Standards Commission for their commitment to improve education for students and create more opportunities for success as they prepare for college, careers, and their role as productive citizens. While the process was complicated with disagreements and short timelines, the commissioners persevered to find solutions ensuring that California's children have a bright future in mathematics. 

The Governor and legislature have commended the work of the ACSC. The adoption of the CCSS standards by the SBE is the next logical step to continue the process for improving education in mathematics for California's children.

The California Mathematics Council stands ready to support all aspects of the implementation of the CCSS standards.

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