Monday, August 2, 2010

California is now a Common Core state

Well, the State Board of Education today voted unanimously (9-0) in support of the Common Core standards as supplemented by the Academic Content Standards Commission.

It was a job well done and many thanks are due all around. Two key points emerged from the discussion and action.

First, the State Board of Education correctly defined its task as to accept the academic content standards; doing so excluded some prefatory and supplemental materials as well as recommendations on the organization of the standards and support for English learners and students with disabilities. This important step will ensure that California has maximum flexibility as it moves towards implementation.

The second issue is, indeed, implementation. All the various steps and issues that now confront the state as it turns towards making the Common Core standards effective for all students in California are crucial: curriculum frameworks and instructional materials; assessments; accountability systems; and professional support for teachers and administrators.

As one who has participated in the state's standards-assessment-accountability system for 15 years, this is an important day for California. It will be known as a turning point and a day of promise for our students.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


With California's inclusion in the final 18 states for round 2 of Race to the Top, the adoption of the Common Core standards seems even more likely next week. With $3.4 billion to distribute to a projected 10-12 winners, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will have extensive latitude in making the final awards. Interestingly, all of the finalists scored at least 400 points, which means that California's district-driven application has already made significant improvement over the state-based one in January.

One blog reader called to ask if my post from yesterday was intended to predict where the State Board of Education might arrange, rearrange or redefine the Common Core standards recommended by the commission. My apologies for readers who thought this was where I was headed.

To be clear, one argument raised during the commission's deliberations was that the way the commission was identifying 8th grade standards would lead to those students enrolled in Algebra 1 with the burden of meeting, essentially, all the standards for Algebra 1 and, additionally, those standards for students not enrolled in Algebra 1. The commission debated this point extensively and made clear that it was intending two distinct pathways and standards within the 8th grade.

In their recent op-ed, Commissioners Evers and Wurman raised again this concern, but I should clarify that the commission communicated its clear intent to State Board of Education, concerns notwithstanding.

Finally, judging by the various communications I'm getting, the testimony before the State Board next week promises to be all-encompassing. There will be direct support for and against the Common Core standards as recommended by the Standards Commission. There will be picayune points made about specific standards. And there will be a lot of forecasting about the long-term system building required to make the standards available for all students.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Odds and Ends Before The SBE Meeting

So tomorrow Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will announce the finalists for the second round of Race to the Top. The timing is a bit delicate as it comes just days before the August 2 deadline for states to declare their adoption of the Common Core standards. While policymakers in California have signaled an intent to adopt the Common Core, it will be interesting to watch the reactions if the state is not identified as an RTTT finalist. . . .

I've been following the concerns raised by Academic Standards Commissioners Bill Evers and Ze'ev Wurman over the recommended math standards. They posted an op-ed in the Sacramento Bee over the weekend ( raises a concern similar to that which I identified during the closing days of the commission's deliberations. Namely, the commission recommends that 8th grade students enrolled in Algebra 1 take the additional standards identified for Algebra 1 while also mastering the 8th grade standards for the rest of the Common Core. Is that too much? Should the State Board consider adopting the 8th grade standards as an entire range and worry about how they are organized later?

I'll have more to say later this week as we get closer to the State Board of Education meeting, including reactions to the RTTT announcement and a forecast of the SBE meeting.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Next Step for Common Core Standards

Following last week's work by the Academic Standards Commission to recommend the Common Core Standards (Plus) to the State Board of Education, questions are emerging as to how board members will understand and frame the discussion.

The post-mortem on the recommended standards will continue for a few days, especially as the final math standards are made available by the Sacramento County Office of Education (see this link for the completed English Language Arts standards:

In the end, commissioners and staff performed near miracles to achieve what they did. Timing, politics, and complexity all were conspiring against them, yet they managed to put aside many of their differences to find common ground and to develop a strong set of standards. The Sacramento County Office of Education staff and Sue Stickel deserve great credit for their work on English Language Arts, which received a 20-0 vote. Math was, of course, far more complex, leading to a 14-2 vote for adoption. Commissioners Farrand, Callahan, Evers, and Wurman were leading advocates and presenters and all should be commended for their incredible work. Many commissioners performed incredibly important behind-the-scenes roles, and some of their work must remain unacknowledged publicly. But it should be understood that there were so many critical areas in which the standards could have fallen apart--and did not.

As the conversation turns to how the State Board of Education deals with the recommended standards, I believe there are two general issues and several more discrete issues that will define the discussion before the board. First, let's deal with the general issues.

California's take on the Common Core features a number of additional standards, Common Core standards being moved (down) grades, and, in the case of 8th grade math, an explicit recommendation on an Algebra 1 course and standards for that course. Many standards and curriculum experts will spend the next two weeks reviewing the standards for their coherence and alignment. They will look at the standards to determine how they lend themselves to use in curriculum frameworks, guiding assessment development, and writing instructional materials.

The second more general comment is to try and compare the proposed standards to the current California standards for their rigor. Though the general indications from the Governor's Office is that they are pleased with the recommended standards, no doubt other commentators will weigh on on whether Califoronis is taking a step forward or back.

But this latter issue is really a false one. It objectifies standards into discrete cognitive silos, as if each one can be measured and compared against another and from that measure, rigor (or lack of) emerges.

I foresee the State Board of Education--and the general public commentary--focusing instead on the following issues:

1. Given the rather ambiguous--some would say vacant--nature of California's current conversation on college readiness, do the proposed standards move that forward? It is clear that in terms of design, structure, and purpose, the Common Core standards reflect a lot of thinking towards college readiness. I would add that the same is true for career readiness, but here in California a lot of important work is being done by the Irvine Foundation and ConnectEd--among others--to inform our understanding of career readiness and how the Common Core standards assists that understanding.

2. Do the proposed standards provide a coherent, formative strategy for students and schools? Is that strategy clearer and more understood than what is now in place? Consider the absence of such strategies at the state level--e.g. increasing college and career readiness rates; preparing kids for Algebra II; clearly articulated course, assessment, and graduation requirements--and how the Common Core may advance these issues.

3. Do the proposed standards place California in an appropriate position to anticipate emerging issues and programs in assessment, instructional materials, accountability, and professional support for teachers and administrators?

It is my sense that these issues will define much of how the State Board of Education views the opportunities and challenges associated with the Common Core standards as proposed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Late into the Night

The Academic Content Standards is working late into its final night to complete its task of recommending the Common Core standards to the State Board of Education.

Earlier in the day, the commission passed milestone votes to send English Language Arts standards as modified by the commission to include additional standards from California's existing standards.

The math discussion has been far-ranging and often confusing. With various proposals on the table, the commission has sought various approaches to its work yesterday and today. The most important action came late in the afternoon when the commission voted to establish for 8th grade Common Core standards (as modified with California standards) and to add a full complement of standards that constitute an Algebra 1 course. This was a critical step towards meeting the Governor's often-stated requirement that the Common Core standards "maintain the rigor" of California's current standards.

But as the day has worn on, the complexity of design and the scope of the various proposals has worn on the commissioners. At times the commission's deliberations have seemed to be a standoff between Commissioners Bill Evers and Ze'ev Wurman and the rest of the commissioners. At other times, enormous good will and sincere efforts for compromise and resolution have come from all commissioners.

With the Governor's Office in attendance as well, it is likely that the standards finally approved for the State Board's consideration will undergo a battery of analyses regarding their coherence, student preparation for Algebra 1, and the translation of the high school standards into projected courses.

As the final actions of the commission occur, Standards Watch will provide full analysis and then turn towards the fate of the Common Core standards in front of the State Board of Education on August 2.

ELA Standards Approved

The Academic Standards Commission is in its final hours and is working feverishly to reconcile various ideas in mathematics.

Earlier today, the Commission approved a Common Core-based standards document to send to the State Board of Education. That's big news.

A more thorough write up and evaluation of the work will follow in the next day or so as the complete action and standards from the commission are finalized and put together.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Decision Day Arrives

Over the past few days I've been engaged in conversations with a variety of policymakers close to the Academic Standards Commission. There are lots of earnest discussions underway, and, to their credit, lots of work by officials to find a middle ground on many issues.

So what's going to happen over the next two days? My predictions and commentary follow:

English Language Arts--The Common Core Standards as supplemented by commissioners and staff at last week's meeting are ready for distribution, discussion, and action. It is likely that the commission will deliberate on these standards right off; this is to both get them out of the way and to score an early win for everyone. The important result will be to send to the State Board of Education a transformative set of standards that will likely benefit all students in California for years to come. I hope that the commission will encourage the State Board of Education to tackle English Language Development standards to supplement the Common Core.

Mathematics--Far more complicated, commissioners will try to tackle math as quickly as possible, recognizing that the discussion and action will carry over to Thursday. Based on conversations with a number of officials involved in the commission's work (and representing all perspectives), my sense of where things will go:

It is likely that the K-7 Common Core standards will be supplemented and supported after both technical and substantive discussion. There is a very strong chance that the commission will come to consensus (meaning at least 11 votes) on K-7. Watch, however, to see if Commissioners Evers and Wurman introduce proposals that would shift Common Core standards amongst grade levels. If so, that would seem to contradict the integrity of the Common Core standards necessary in both the standards and assessment arenas. I would not be surprised if a majority of commissioners attempts to summarily dismiss any such effort.

There has been a fairly recent rumble as well that issues now exist in the high school strands. While there are undoubtedly substantive issues here, it's also the case that the Common Core effort has substantively hurt itself by not introducing early on a coherent and aligned document describing the suggested high school math courses for the Common Core. What did arrive--Achieve's pathway document--was late and not able to provide much comfort.

Finally, we arrive at Grade 8. The Governor's Office continues to beat the drum on the statutory intent language that Common Core standards must be "at least as rigorous" as current California standards. At least that's the public message. Other indications are that the Governor's Office may be ready to settle for an 8th grade Algebra 1 pathway and a clear statement that students not prepared for Algebra 1 in 8th grade would be in the Common Core pre-algebra track. If this is the case, that's a fairly major step away from where the Governor and State Board were two years ago on the Algebra 1 front.

Now, on the the commentary. I believe it's possible for the commission to complete its work in math, maintain its integrity around the Common Core, and send to the State Board of Education math standards that also meet the existing policy of getting all students to Algebra 1 in 8th grade. How?

The commission should adopt an extended set of Grade 8 math standards that include a coherent Algebra 1 component that is, essentially, based on an Algebra 1 course. The commission should then make a policy recommendation (it's important that this be a policy recommendation rather than the standards; the State Board of Education has latitude on policy recommendations but must vote up or down on the standards themselves) that the State Board divide Grade 8 into two potential assessment pools.

All students would take the Common Core Grade 8 math standards (plus whatever technical or supplemental standards the commission identifies) assessment. Students wishing to learn if they are on a college readiness track could be offered an assessment that is built on the full range of Grade 8 standards that includes Algebra 1. This option has the benefit of:

1. maintaining the crucially important policy that California is working to ensure that all students have an opportunity to prepare for college and demonstrate that preparation by enrolling and succeeding in Algebra 1 in 8th grade.
2. mimicking the current Early Assessment Program in 11th grade which offers an extended set of items designed to measure college readiness.
3. ensuring that during the short tenure of the commission, the longer term policy implications of setting the standards was elevated to the State Board of Education which can take a longer-term perspective.
4. Provide state policymakers with a framework from which an evolving and flexible program of standards and assessments can meet the needs of students now and into the future. Additionally, state policymakers can establish courses for 8th graders that may range across all the standards and/or focus on Algebra 1.

That's my two cents. I'll be watching with great interest where this all goes.