The Common Core and the Chicken

So much for my resolve to post weekly…

Last night I went to the Annual Meeting of the Vermont Council of Teachers of Mathematics, where we saw a wonderful presentation by Julie Conrad, who is the Middle School and High School Mathematics Assessment Coordinator for the state Department of Education.  (Got that?  State government seems to specialize in long job titles.)  She promised to post the slides from her talk at the “Common Core in Vermont” website.  I was intrigued by several things she said (which may or may not be written down on the slides).

On why Vermont has signed on with the Common Core Initiative: according to Julie, 28% of entering Vermont college students need remedial English or Math courses.  Of course this raises further questions — How many for math alone?  How is their need assessed?  — and reminds me that Daniel Luzer at the Washington Monthly has several provocative posts, such as this one, on remedial colleges courses.  Still, 28% sounds high.

Julie also pointed out that one way in which the Common Core standards differ from the earlier NCTM standards are that the CC standards don’t talk about strands; instead some topics are done when they’re done, especially at the elementary level.  Her example was area and perimeter:  “We talk about area and perimeter in third grade. We talk about area and perimeter in fourth grade. We talk about area and perimeter in fifth grade. We talk about area and perimeter in sixth grade. What else could we be doing with that time?”

Grades 6-8 will have the most challenging transition, according to Julie, which I take to mean the most changes in content.  Topics now assumed to be complete in elementary school will be removed, and there’s more of a focus on making sure students are ready for high school (at least that’s what I take from her graphic illustration of middle school as a sort of intersection of the end of elementary and the beginning of high school.

Most important, to my mind, is Julie’s statement that the “Practice Standards are the change makers” (as opposed to the Content Standards).  I’ll be interested to see how this idea plays out over the next few years.

The CC in VT website has some useful links in the top left corner.  Next time I have a few minutes I’m going to explore, and maybe even go on a mathematics standards “scavenger hunt.”

Right now, though, I need to make the final revisions in the Green Chicken exam, since this year’s contest is tomorrow.  Wish us luck!

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About Priscilla Bremser

Professor of Mathematics Middlebury College
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