Reading & Literacy

More Details Emerge on Common Standards in California

By Erik W. Robelen — July 16, 2010 2 min read
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As I noted this morning, a California commission yesterday voted to recommend that the state board of education approve the common standards. I’ve since had a chance to learn some new details and confirm a few things.

1) The state board of education is scheduled to vote on the final standards package on Aug. 2.

2) I’ve received confirmation that no material from the common standards was deleted by the state commission. The phrase often repeated during the meetings, according to Sue Stickel, the commission’s project director, was: “You cannot use an eraser. You can use a pen.”

As I mentioned, the commission added language, and even new standards, in both English/language arts and math. And, as it was described to me, in some cases the members essentially “copied and pasted” math language at one grade level in the common standards and included it at the grade below as well.

3) In math, the commission added an option for 8th graders to take an Algebra I course instead of a course aligned to the common standards expectations for 8th graders.

“In the area of mathematics, the headline grabber is really the algebra at 8th grade option,” said Tom Adams, the director of standards, curriculum frameworks, and instructional resources at the California Department of Education. “Once they agreed there was going to be two courses at 8th grade, one being the 8th grade common core, and the other being Algebra I, then they felt it was necessary to enhance the standards at the lower grade levels.”

Stickel, who also is an assistant superintendent in the Sacramento County Office of Education, notes that the common standards envisions 8th graders taking a class that “has some algebra in it, is rich in geometry, is rich in all the skills to be successful in all math courses in high school.” Here’s a link to the overview of 8th grade math in the common standards, to see for yourself. She said that in California, students who are deemed not ready for Algebra I would take a course aligned with the common standards for 8th grade.

4) The vote for the ELA standards was 20-0, Stickel said. For math, she said it was 14-2, with four members not casting a vote either way. Then a final vote was held on the whole package, with another 14-2 outcome. The four who abstained were among 12 commissioners who are members of the California Teachers Association. (In addition, under the rules of the commission, the chairman did not vote.)

Sandra Jackson, a CTA spokeswoman, said her union is supportive of the common standards, but opposes the commission’s addition of the Algebra I course at the 8th grade for several reasons. For one, she argues that having the two separate options in 8th grade would essentially lead to the inappropriate “tracking” of students. She also maintains that the additional course is inconsistent with the common standards.

But Stickel said the common standards include language explicitly allowing for an algebra course in the 8th grade. On page 84 of the common standards in math, the document says: "[M]any students in the U.S. today take Algebra I in the 8th grade, and in some states this is a requirement. The K-7 standards contain the prerequisites to prepare students for Algebra I by 8th grade, and the standards are designed to permit states to continue existing policies concerning Algebra I in 8th grade.”

5) The commission’s handiwork in ELA is already available at this website. The math portion is expected to be posted there by early next week.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.