Archive for March, 2010

Notes from Alaska’s Common Core Comparison

Mar 27 2010 Published by under borderland,curriculum,education

As everyone has heard, “Alaska and Texas are the only states that declined to participate in the [national] standards-writing effort.” Unreported, though (except here) has been the fact that the State of Alaska was planning a comparative review of the new standards with what we have in place already. And now, Megan Holland has picked up the story, opining for the Anchorage Daily News :

As 48 other states are participating in a rewriting of their education standards, Alaska is taking a look at its own and wondering if it should get onboard and raise the bar for students. But while some educators say Alaska kids deserve to be held to the same standard as the rest of the country, others are saying we are different and the current, laxer standards are just fine.

But… that’s not quite how it went. Since I was one of the “educators from across Alaska” who participated in Alaksa’s Common Core Comparison, it’s time for me to add some actual substance to Megan Holland’s confused commentary.

To begin with it’s not at all certain that Alaska’s standards are “laxer” or otherwise inferior than the proposed national standards. To say that we were wondering if we should “raise the bar” begs the question we were enlisted to answer in the first place; we were tasked with answering “proposed questions on quality, strength, and differences compared to the Alaska GLEs.” Furthermore, it’s an act of blind faith to assert that replacing the current state-by-state “patchwork” with a single set of curriculum standards will actually benefit students. What is more certain is that those who stand to benefit most are the corporate authors of the standards documents – members of The Business Roundtable, Achieve, ACT, the College Board, and publishers like Pearson.

The meeting took place over the course of three days in February, and involved about 50 teachers who worked in groups of 4, organized around grade levels and content areas. The group I worked with looked at Reading standards for grades 6-8. Our task was to comb through the Alaska GLEs to find and document points of alignment with the Common Core. We used a rating rubric that required us to reach consensus on whether there was full, partial, or no alignment. If the alignment was partial, we were supposed to say whether the Common Core standard was more or less rigorous than the Alaska GLE. The overall findings were recently published in an agenda packet for an Alaska state Board of Education meeting.

In his opening remarks, deputy education commissioner, Les Morse, told us that to the best of his knowledge no other state has conducted a similar standards review. Anyone interested in the subject should take a look at the executive summary, since it may be the only comprehensive review of the national standards conducted by practicing teachers. That said, readers should remember that we had a limited mandate, and we were not looking at the Common Core alone. At the end of the process, each group was asked to make a recommendation for or against adoption, and as ADN correctly reports, the groups did not all come to the same conclusion.

Some interesting bits from the
Report on the Alignment of the Common Core Standards and Alaska Grade Level Expectations:
(pages 349-373/493)

  • The CC standards are written as an instructional document. GLEs were written to be an assessment blueprint. When EED staff asked which CC standards would be specifically assessed, EED was told that there was much still to be decided.
  • Two of the math table groups expressed concerns about the developmental appropriateness of the CC standards. All table groups expressed concerns about the continuum of skills in the CC math standards. (See Appendix A to see the table of how strands are organized for the CC math standards compared to the GLE math strands.) The CC math strands differ from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics math strands and they are not uniform across the grades. Some strands are covered in some grades and not in others.
  • About 75% of the CC reading standards align with the GLEs in some way (either at the same or lower or higher rigor). About 50% of the CC reading standards were judged to be at about the same or lesser rigor as the GLEs and 25% of the CC reading standards were judged to have a rigor higher than the GLEs.
  • The K-Grade 2 table group stated that it was premature to make a recommendation about adopting the CC reading standards but saw "œlots of exciting possibilities for a positive impact in results from using Core Standards." The high school table group would adopt the CC reading standards. The high school table group stated that the CC reading standards require the ability to apply the standards with a high level of thought and understanding and that because the GLEs cover most of the Common Core, the change would not be great for teachers, students or parents.
  • Two of the table groups would not adopt the February draft of the CC reading standards. The Grades 3-5 table group was concerned that using verbs from a higher level on Bloom"™s taxonomy would require substantial modification in instructional strategies. The Grades 6-8 table group stated that they would not adopt the CC reading standards because adopting the CC is "œall or nothing." The Grades 6-8 wrote that "œincreased rigor may have a negative impact on already disenfranchised students." Also, parents and community may have less input into the CC, considering they are already written.
  • The Kindergarten-Grade 2 table group expressed many concerns about developmental appropriateness and stated "œThe goal of the CC standards is to be clearer, fewer, and higher. They are not clearer. They are not fewer. They are higher but inappropriately so." The Grades 3-5 table group was divided on the question of whether to adopt this draft of the CC standards. The Grades 6-8 stated, "œThe rigor of some content standards does not address the needs of Alaska"™s students and the unique challenges they face."
  • The GLEs directly address cultural events and influences. This may be implied in the CC, but not directly stated.

As I see it, nonstandard is not necessarily substandard, and Alfie Kohn has it exactly right with his, Debunking National Standards. For additional reading, see Susan Ohanian’s Stop National Standards site.

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Here and Now

Mar 20 2010 Published by under borderland

I’ve been sidetracked from the blog for the past few weeks due to a spring break ski trip which was immediately followed by a family crisis that has put my mom in a hospice care situation. Without getting into too many particulars, a cascade of health problems, pneumonia being one of them, weakened her to the point that she has not eaten much of anything for the past month. The hospital had her hooked up to a chest tube to drain her lungs and an I-V tube to give her fluids while she was there. She also can’t swallow due to another messy set of problems, and she refused the feeding tube they wanted her to have. She is weak, and can’t get out of bed without assistance. Without her active participation in her recovery, the prognosis is not good. So my sister, my brother, and I are keeping Mom company and making her comfortable at home as best we can.

I have no prior experience with anything like this, and we are learning a lot. We are learning a lot about the health care system, and it’s default tendency to treat diseases instead of people. My sister has a dual professional background in nursing and law, and she’s worked as a consultant on health care regulations for for both public and corporate clients. She is a powerful guiding force in this whole situation. I give her credit for helping us find our way onto the hospice path we’ve taken. We are also learning a lot about ourselves and each other. I’m mostly paying close attention, maintaining an even disposition, and doing whatever needs to be done. The hardest thing at the moment is to be simply present and avoid indulging in any thinking that goes beyond the immediate situation because nobody knows what’s going to happen. Whenever one of us starts to wander off into the hypothetical realm – a completely useless and potentially harmful exercise – we remind one another that all we know for sure is that we are here right now, doing our best. It’s a great lesson, worth remembering always.

All the people we know, and all the people we’ve met have been kind and generous, and wonderfully supportive. For that, I am most grateful.

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