Math Differentiation in a Common Core World

Just last week, I was invited to speak at the CCSSO Rural Chiefs Conference in Kansas City on the topic of “Supporting Math Differentiation in a Common Core World”.  While there is much written and discussed on the idea of differentiated instruction, in practice there are limited tools and resources to support math differentiation, a deficiency well-documented in this recent Ed Week article, ‘’Educators in Search of Common Core Resources”.

A theme permeating much of my presentation was the seemingly benign but pernicious neglect of math in our country.  By almost any measure, e.g. instructional time, professional development, number of assessments ,instructional programs, etc… math runs a distant second to reading in the amount of instructional attention given.  At least part of the challenge we face in addressing our math crisis in k-12 education will require that we remedy this neglect.

In my suggestions for addressing this imbalance I focused on four critical strategies. While the adoption of the CCSS is a huge first step in the right direction, its real success will rest upon how effectively we implement these standards.  Along with the implementation of these standards, it is critical that we recognize that math – like any other skill – can be learned.  Too often we subscribe, consciously and unconsciously, to the notion that math achievement is an inherent ability, as if math achievement was based on a “math gene”.  If we take more of a Carolyn Dwek growth perspective, as opposed to a fixed mind set, we will go a long way toward promoting the idea that math achievement is possible for all of our students.

Secondly, we need to build math tools and resources that support differentiated instruction.  Once, when leading a math workshop for a school district, the head of the math department informed me, tongue in cheek, that all math teachers know how to differentiate instruction:  “We say it louder and we repeat it”. This RV (repetition and volume) model is likely to only work if the student is hearing impaired.  Yet I suspect we have all seen variations of this model, this when we continue to drill a student on a math problem or concept to no avail.  Meaningful differentiated instruction is really only possible when we are able to measure a student’s math level and the difficulty of the math concepts and skills on a common scale.  This possibility is now a reality with the Quantile Framework for Mathematics.  Once you know a student’s Quantile measure you know what math skills they are ready to learn.  And just as importantly, one can make sure that the learner has acquired the necessary pre-requisite skills.  Unfortunately, we often continue to employ the “RV” model and fail to drill down and provide differentiated content and instruction to meet the unique needs of the learner. (more…)

Resources to Implement the Common Core

As this recent Education Week article, Educators in Search of Common-Core Resources, makes clear, educators are clamoring for resources aligned to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM).  Many states have already adopted these standards and are currently developing assessments tailored to them.  

Shifting from previous standards to implement the CCSSM in its intended manner is no easy task, particularly at the elementary grades.  The Common Core was developed to move our country’s mathematics curriculum away from breadth and rather, vertically articulate the curriculum from kindergarten through high school to develop depth of understanding.    Developing depth of understanding however, requires an emphasis on the connections between concepts.

The Quanitle® Framework for Mathematics has information to help educators better understand these connections and is also aligned with the CCSSM through its freely accessible website.  Using the Quantile website, www.Quantiles.com and its tools, educators can find thousands of free, web-based resources aligned to the CCSSM.  

The Quantile website tools, the Math Skills Database, and the Quantile Teacher Assistant have a two-fold purpose: 1)  These tools leverage the Quantile Framework’s interconnected web of almost six hundred skills and concepts and align them with the CCSSM.  This taxonomy is also aligned to states’ previous standards, thus helping educators in their transition from one set of standards to the next; and 2)  Each of the skills and concepts delineated by the Quantile Framework is linked to freely-available web resources, providing educators with the much needed resources to implement the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.

If you haven’t already tried it, be sure to take a look.

Implementing the Standards

Uh-oh.  The EPE Research Center is reporting that, of the 46 states and D.C. that have adopted the Common Core State Standards, only seven have fully developed plans to put them into practice in the three key areas of: instructional material, professional development, and teacher evaluation systems.  Georgia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, West Virginia, and New York have reported finalizing plans across all three areas, but other states are reporting only partial completions.  As the report notes, budget cuts and funding issues are most likely the cause of the delay in most states.  With the new assessments scheduled to be released for the 2014-15 school year, let’s hope those plans are implemented soon.

Text Complexity Takes Hold

Given the Common Core’s emphasis on text complexity, an increasing number of educators are paying more attention to the complexity of the texts they assign.  Here at MetaMetrics, our focus has always been on understanding the relationship between the reader and the text and utilizing a common metric (Lexile) to characterize that relationship.  That’s why we’re so excited to make two related announcements: first, over 100,000 users have registered to use our free, publicly available Lexile Analyzer tool.  This tool allows users to analyze the complexity of small bits of texts to obtain a Lexile measure.  We’re thrilled to see that so many educators are focused on the complexity various pieces of text and are utilizing this wonderful tool.  If you have not yet tried this tool, click here to register and start using.

On a related note, we’re also happy to announce that 50 new publishers adopted the Lexile measure in 2011.  With the recent shift from proficiency to college and career readiness, school districts around the country are focusing on what it means to be college and career ready, specifically what it means to graduate prepared to read college level text.  With all the recent emphasis on college and career readiness, it is vital that students be introduced to increasingly sophisticated levels of complex texts.  Which is why it’s refreshing to see so many new publishers begin to recognize the significance of text complexity.  These new publishers add to a growing roster of hundreds of publishers that now routinely measure their books using Lexile measures.  Some of these new publishers include American Girl, Black Rabbit Books, Medallion Press, Nomad Press, and many, many more.  To all of our new publisher partners, welcome aboard.

Text Complexity & the Common Core

There has been quite a bit published recently on the Common Core State Standards and what they will mean for teachers in the classroom.  In this recent video, Tim Shanahan argues that it’s not what students are being asked to do with a text that presents the difficulty, but the complexity level of the text itself.  As Shanahan and others have argued:

So why is the common core making such a big deal out of having kids read hard text? One of the most persuasive pieces of evidence they considered was a report, Reading: Between the Lines, published by American College Testing (ACT; 2006)…In Reading: Between the Lines, ACT demonstrates that student performance cannot be differentiated in any meaningful way by question type. Students do not perform differently if they are answering literal recall items or inferential items (or other question types like main idea or vocabulary, either). Test performance, according to ACT, is driven by text rather than questions. Thus, if students are asked to read a hard passage, they may only answer a few questions correctly, no matter what types of questions they may be. On the other hand, with an easy enough text, students may answer almost any questions right, again with no differences by question type.

And here’s ELA standards writer, Sue Pimentel, providing some historical context on why change was needed in ELA and what she considers the key shifts in the ELA standards.  Of particular interest, is the shift in text complexity.  Students will now be expected to read increasingly sophisticated levels of complex text in order to graduate prepared for college and career materials. 

Both videos are worth checking out and provide a succinct explanation on the importance of text complexity in the common core state standards.

Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core

Our own Malbert Smith just released a new policy brief: Fulfilling the Promise of the Common Core.  Smith outlines some of the major challenges facing educators, including the imperative to ensure that students are graduating college and career ready.  An important component of ensuring steady progress toward college and career readiness is facilitating student reading growth throughout a student’s entire academic career.  Otherwise, students unable to handle grade-level material by high school face an enormous challenge in trying to ‘catch-up’ by time of graduation. 

Smith outlines two important strategies for ensuring students remain on track for life after high school – extended instructional time and personalized learning:

The “New Normal” requires us to find innovative solutions to eliminate the readiness gap. There are two promising, cost-effective strategies that can help us achieve the Common Core within today’s financial and time parameters: personalized learning platforms and summer reading. Both approaches support “blended learning,” which Michael Horn defines as: “any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace” (Horn, 2011).

Be sure to read the whole thing.

Expecting More: Increasing Text Complexity

Mark Pennington recently published a great piece on the importance of teaching increasingly complex levels of text to U.S. students.  Taking his cue from the Common Core Standards Initiative, Pennington argues that:

1. Text complexity is the most important variable in reading comprehension.

2. The level of text complexity in the post-secondary world has remained constant or increased over the past fifty years.

3.  The K-12 level of text complexity has decreased over the past fifty years.

The implications are clear: the text demands of college and career are increasing and students may find themselves increasingly unable to handle the text demands of real-world reading. (more…)

MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.