When the state released proposed revisions to Common Core last month, there were a lot of changes, but most seemed relatively small. In some cases wording was tweaked; in others, an existing standard was made more specific.
But a key question remains unanswered: How would the revisions affect classrooms across New York state? To find out, we turned to the experts: teachers.
In most states, changes to the standards have not yielded a major departure from the Common Core. And in New York, the teachers we spoke with generally said the recommendations here do not mark a radical shift either.
“This wasn’t really the venue for us to say, let’s start from scratch,” said Bobson Wong, who was part of the state’s math standards review committee and teaches math at a high school in Queens.
Still, even small wording changes, if made permanent, could impact how math and English are taught or understood. We asked teachers to drill down into proposed alterations to individual standards and explain why, or if, those changes matter. Here are their answers:
April Rose is a third-grade teacher in Queens and a member of Educators 4 Excellence.
The current early-grade reading standards have often been criticized for not being developmentally appropriate. Some of the state’s proposed revisions appear to tackle that problem.
For instance, a third-grade reading standard asked that students be able to, “Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.” That standard has been revised to, “Read a variety of text levels with purpose and understanding…”
The wording change is small, but it could have a real benefit for teachers, Rose said.
“What if I have students who are above or below that [grade level]?” Rose asked. “All children come to grades at different entry points.”
Rose said she’ll still expose all students to grade-level and higher-level texts, but it’s important to have the flexibility to meet struggling students where they are, particularly if students are English Language Learners or have a disability.
“I feel like the pressure may be a tad bit off,” Rose said.
Bobson Wong teaches geometry, algebra II, and Advanced Placement statistics at a high school in Queens. He is also a Math for America master teacher and served on the state’s committee to revise math standards.
The existing higher-level Common Core math standards also inspired confusion among teachers. Some of the standards were too vague, some were too specific, and others were entirely misplaced, Wong said. The proposed standards try to clarify those problems, he said.
For example, an old geometry standard read, “Prove theorems about triangles.” It then listed a number of possible theorems and said teachers could consider others. That is too vague for a math teacher, Wong said.
“That could easily be half a year in a geometry course. It could be anything,” Wong said. “As a teacher, it was extremely difficult to read a standard like that.”
The new standard is more specific. It lists the precise theorems that students should know how to prove, including that the interior angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees and the exterior angles add up to 360 degrees.
Changes like this are unlikely to upend anyone’s teaching style, Wong said, but a teacher confused by the original standard will be aided by the clarity.
Bushra Makiya teaches eighth-grade math and algebra in the Bronx. She is also a Math for America master teacher.
The eighth-grade math standards — which were not as hotly criticized as some of the other grades — were hardly touched by the state’s proposed revisions, Makiya said. Her subject’s standards saw only a few tweaks or clarifications.
When asked if these revisions would change her eighth-grade math classroom, she had a simple answer: “No, not at all,” she said.
Makiya also teaches an eighth-grade class of algebra I, and said those standards had some welcome changes. For example, the old standards asked students to learn about a complicated type of exponential equations. But the committees determined that concept is too difficult for algebra I, and instead, proposed moving it to algebra II.
Makiya said the change is the right move, but her students would not notice a difference in class.
“I honestly wasn’t teaching that anyway in algebra I, because I thought that was too much for kids,” Makiya said. “My guess is that’s probably true for a lot of teachers.”
Katie Kurjakovic teaches English Language Learners at an elementary school in Queens and worked on the state’s English standards committee.
The draft standards are missing something important to Katie Kurjakovic: accommodations for the English Language Learners she teaches.
“I’m very disappointed in the overall final product,” said Kurjakovic, who worked on the state’s committee to revamp English standards.
Kurjakovic said in lieu of creating a different set of standards for English learners, she wanted to see guidelines to help teachers working with non-native English speakers still unable to master the standards in English.
For example, the early grades have standards focused on recognizing and producing rhyming words. Those standards have not been changed, but Kurjakovic wanted them to include a different option for English Language Learners — allowing those students to learn the concept of rhyming in their native languages.
State officials acknowledged that they need to keep thinking about how to make the standards work for English learners. They said the State Education Department has engaged an independent expert, in part to help determine how the standards should be implemented for English Language Learners and special education students.
But that does not go far enough for Kurjakovic, who said accommodations for English learners should have been released at the same time as the draft standards.
One bright spot, she said, is the proposal to combine “Reading for Information” and “Reading for Literature.” That change will allow teachers to focus on reading skills without getting bogged down in whether they are using fiction or nonfiction texts, Kurjakovic said.
Under the current standards, teachers might struggle to achieve that balance, she said. This “allows teachers a little bit more freedom to choose teaching material thematically.”