In a major shift in public education, states across the nation have been implementing a new set of standards known as the Common Core. Common Core appears as a subject in national and local news media and is a constant subject of debate, particularly in conservative circles.
Despite all this attention, Common Core still remains a confusing topic for many people. In this three-part series MarylandReporter.com answers some basic questions about Common Core.
Part 1 focused on Common Core itself and how it was developed.
Part 2 looks at what the new standards mean for Maryland public school systems and their limited options in implementing them.
Part 3 on looks at how the standards are working in Maryland and what they will cost.
The series was edited by MarylandReporter.com associate editor Meg Tully and Part 2 was written by Glynis Kazanjian.
What does adopting Common Core mean for Maryland public schools?
Under Common Core, the goal is to require more in-depth study into fewer topics, with key shifts specifically in the math and English/language arts curriculum.
Students will be tested once in March with a performance-based assessment and once in late May for an end-of-year assessment. Testing windows will be four weeks, compared to two weeks for the annual Maryland State Assessments being phased out.
Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, teacher and principal evaluations will be based partly on student test scores.
In all subject areas for Common Core, educators are being asked to weave multiple angles into each lesson — teaching context, vocabulary and real world applications.
For English/language arts, the new curriculum places a high priority on writing skills that require research and thoughtful evaluation of texts. Writing development is being taught in stages, with identifiable progressions at each grade level. Under the research requirements, students will collect evidence through multiple sources. Students are also being asked to analyze the author’s purpose in using specific language.
While classic literary texts will still be used, the use of non-fiction and informational texts will have a larger role and students are being encouraged to select their own books. Tests would be based on a student’s understanding of what they read rather than recounting a particular story.
In mathematics, students will focus on fewer topics to gain a deeper understanding of key concepts, according to the Maryland State Department of Education.
Students will be taught some math concepts earlier and some concepts later, when compared to the old state standards. For example, data/statistical analysis (plotting and interpreting data and graphs), which was taught in elementary school, moved into middle school. As a result, elementary students are spending new time on dividing larger numbers in fourth-grade, instead of fifth-grade, and dividing fractions in fifth-grade instead of sixth-grade.
Tests will no longer be strictly multiple choice. Students will answer questions in multiple steps and sometimes will be asked to describe a situation where the concept is used in a real world setting.
The Common Core math curriculum goes up to Algebra II. Higher level courses such as calculus or discrete math are left to up to local school districts.