Why CCSS-M Grades K-3 is developmentally appropriate and internationally competitive

April 13, 2015

In this post, Jere Confrey, Joseph D. Moore Distinguished University Professor, Science, Technology,  Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Department, College of Education, North Carolina State University, discusses why the Common Core State Standards for Math can be considered developmentally appropriate. A more detailed version of this analysis, including this chart and others, is available here.

1. The CCSS-M development process drew on teachers and experts in early childhood math education. 

 According to Jason Zimba, a lead CCSS-M author, feedback was obtained from state directors, elementary teachers, and national experts (Fact Sheet, Student Achievement Partners. The NCR’s 2009 report, Mathematics Learning in Early Childhood: Paths Toward Excellence and Equity was used. The National Association for the Education of Young Children in conjunction with the National Association of Early Childhood Specialists in States issued a joint statement publicly expressing their support for the Standards.

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

Photo credit: Casey R. Brown

2. Standards are not meant to be read to children.

They represent professional knowledge in the field for teachers–just as in the case of medical knowledge, the Standards are not expected to be communicated verbatim to patients by doctors.

3. Standards typically state a clear target in the first sentence that describes the expectation, followed by research-based strategies for student success.

 After that, the Standards include suggestions for research-backed strategies for learning, to ensure that the students’ learning is made as conceptually rich and efficient as possible. Math is a language of connections.

Here is first grade example: “Add and subtract within 20, demonstrating fluency for addition and subtraction within 10. Use strategies such as counting on; making ten (e.g., 8+6 = 8+2+4 = 10+4 = 14); decomposing a number leading to a ten (e.g., 13-4 = 13-3-1 = 9)…and creating equivalent but easier or known sums (e.g., adding 6+7 by creating the known equivalent 6+6+1 = 12+1 = 13).”  These strategies, from the NRC’s Adding It Up, are a toolbox for a teacher to build on children’s ideas to reach towards the development eventually applying standard algorithms.

4. The Standards are consistent with international standards.

In Informing Grades 1-6 Mathematics Standards Development, AIR took the standards from Singapore, Korea, and Hong Kong, and created a composite set. The major topics in the numbers strand for all three countries follow a similar pattern, across grades, dictated by the logic of mathematics learning. In the chart below on understanding and reading whole numbers, CCSS-M is compared to this composite chart. If we claim our standards are not developmentally appropriate, then how is it that other countries achieve these outcomes? Note, these countries do not offer Kindergarten.

Table 1. Composite Standards for Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea, with the Addition of the CCSS-M. Composite Standards: Numbers—Whole Numbers for Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea (AIR, p. 8)

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The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum

April 10, 2015

Dorothy Strickland, NIEER Distinguished Research Fellow, responds to specific issues raised in various venues by questioners, considering whether literacy standards and related assessments can be developmentally appropriate.

Concern: Kindergarten standards are not appropriate for children that age. Assessment related to reaching standards will not be developmentally appropriate, and results may be misused.

Much of the concern about CCSS relates to two areas–curriculum and assessment–and not to the standards themselves. Please note: The Common Core State Standards are NOT a curriculum. The curriculum must be developed by those responsible for instruction. This might include collaborative efforts by State Departments of Education and school district personnel.

Curriculum

Regarding issues related to the absence of play: Developmental appropriateness has long been a part of our early childhood agenda. Fortunately, there is NOTHING in the CCSS to encourage concerns that there is no room for developmentally appropriate practice. Playful and experiential learning have always been essential elements of an early childhood curriculum and instruction and remain so.

Key Design Considerations are included in the introduction (p.4) of the CCSS: An integrated model of literacy is recommended. That is, the language arts (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) will be integrated with each other and with content of interest and importance to young children. Research and media skills will be blended into the Standards as a whole.

story time 3Educators familiar with EC know that the integration of process (ELA) and content (how plants grow, the weather, etc.) is fundamental to theme-based or project-based curriculum and instruction. This has been a basic tenet of early childhood literacy and it remains alive and well. Children explore/research questions related to topics of importance and interest to them. Books, objects, hands-on activities, and media of various types are used to explore topics/themes with children. Teachers engage children as they read aloud to them and discuss what is read. Children are also involved in shared /interactive reading. They are encouraged to follow-up independently as they explore the topics on their own through reading/pretend reading and drawing/writing about topics under investigation.

None of this is new to the field. However, the CCSS promote attention to specific goals, such as: With prompting and support, ask and answer questions about key details in a text. At the kindergarten level, the text is likely read/shared with the children by the teacher. This Standard encourages listening, responding, sharing ideas. Equally important, children are learning about a topic of interest to them. This will include new information and concepts and often includes new vocabulary or “known” vocabulary used in a new way.

A focus on thinking with text, and problem solving is encouraged. Again, this is meant to be done in a developmentally appropriate way with an emphasis on gradually increasing expectations throughout the grades. The CCSS are intended to promote skills/strategies that go beyond memorization and foster the application of what is learned in new situations.

The use of technology to support curriculum and instruction is encouraged. Indeed, texts may be traditional print or digital. And, we must not forget oral texts–these relate to listening.

Assessment

Much of the concern expressed about CCSS relates to assessment. Excessive assessment is, indeed, an issue in some states. However, like curriculum, it is not a function of the CCSS. An increased reliance on Summative Assessments, in particular, has caused concern among many educators. Purposes and uses include to:

  • inform educators, students, parents, and the public about the status of student achievement
  • hold schools accountable for meeting achievement goals
  • inform relevant education policies re: areas in need of attention and resource allocation
  • adjust/differentiate instruction according to student needs
  • gauge performance of teachers and principals.

While these purposes/uses have always existed, they have taken on new emphasis in recent years (especially their use as tools in educator evaluation) and are often linked to the CCSS. For those whose states have adopted the PARCC assessment and others, I encourage a look at the Model Content Frameworks developed to bridge the Standards with the PARCC Assessments. They can be found online at www.parcconline.

  • Professional Development should make extensive use of the Model Content Frameworks that accompany the PARCC assessment. The Model Content Frameworks are:
    • a voluntary resource not a curriculum
    • designed to help teachers better understand the standards and how key elements of the assessment design interact with the standards within a grade and across grade levels.

Research Support

Appendix A: Common Core Standards for ELA/Literacy: Supporting Research and GlossarySimilar materials may be found in other appendices.



Teachers discussing assessment in preschool

April 8, 2015

This response is by Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers.

Assessment related to reaching standards will not be developmentally appropriate, and results may be misused.

I sat down with a group of prekindergarten educators in New York City recently to talk about how they assess how their students are doing. The conversation began slowly. A few mentioned that they feel overwhelmed by the many different assessments they are asked to use; others noted how they feel pressure to be sure that these assessments show that their kids are ready for kindergarten.

“We know that these kids have to be at a certain level in kindergarten,” said Zara Ziff, a teacher for the past 11 years. “Every time we turn around, we’re assessing them.”

children in class (3)Then the conversation turned to play-based learning. It was as if someone had flipped a light switch. Around the table, faces lit up—voices lifted in animated, excited tones. To see the joy flooding the room made me think of how much joy these teachers infuse in their students when they are able to guide them with developmentally appropriate activities that meet them where they are.

“For some of them, the only way they know how to express themselves right now is through playing,” said Angela Russell, a teacher for the past 10 years.

“They express themselves without fear,” said Norah Edwards, a 29-year veteran teacher.

Play helps their students learn how to communicate, how to work in teams, how to solve problems. And it helps educators understand what their students are learning.

“Play is so important because not every kid is going to want to come in here and just start drawing and writing and learning numbers. Some kids come in and don’t even know how to behave when their parents aren’t around, and they get scared because their moms aren’t there,” said Gyasi Daniel, a pre-K para-educator. “When you’re playing with them, they get comfortable, they get adjusted to school—and they say, I can be myself here. That’s what is really important about pre-K.”

Years of research shows that the best way to assess the progress of our early learners is through the expertise of teachers who know how to observe and interpret young children’s activities and behavior. Yet early childhood educators are being forced by states across the country to use what they perceive as developmentally inappropriate practices in these crucial early learning years under the guise of needing to prepare for K-3 Common Core assessments.

According to those I spoke with in New York City, play-based learning should comprise up to 60 percent of the school day. Instead, they are finding that testing-based assessments are taking up more and more of their time. Angela noted that she is currently using three assessments with her students.

The AFT is working to help educators like Zara, Angela, Norah, and Gyasi infuse a joy of learning in our youngest learners by keeping standardized tests out of our pre-K through second-grade classrooms. At the same time, we are working to ensure that early childhood educators are included in all conversations about the rollout and implementation of the Common Core—to ensure that the needs of our youngest learners are addressed.

We believe that assessments should be used to help teachers take an inventory at the launch of the school year to find out where their students are starting from, so they can then shape their instruction to get them where they need to go, as Norah suggested.

Ultimately, we need to put our teachers in the driver’s seat and help them to infuse our youngest learners with a lifelong love of learning—and we need to ensure that any and all assessments don’t get in the way of that.

“You want all children to have a love of learning,” said Karen Alford, vice president for elementary schools of the United Federation of Teachers. “It begins here in pre-K. That’s why play is so important. The hands-on experiential learning is so valuable. They will get to the pencils and the bubble test. That will come. But this is the foundation.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten visited PS 184 in Brooklyn to attend a launch event for a new toolkit for staff and families: Transitioning to Kindergarten. For more information, visit the AFT’s early childhood Web page.


 Collaboration and complexity

April 3, 2015

The first responses addressing concerns about CCSS in early childhood education are from Kathleen A. Paciga, Columbia College Chicago;  Jessica L. Hoffman, Winton Woods City School District; and William H. Teale, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Concern: The standards are complex and extensive, and there is little guidance for teachers to implement them in Kindergarten classrooms.

On the one hand, yes, the standards are “complex” in the sense that they are communicated in a complicated document that represents high-level goals for student learning. Furthermore, they do not prescribe how a teacher should actually teach each standard, which speaks to the issue of little guidance. This lack of guidance has its downside: it can easily lead teachers to employ a didactic pedagogical approach to kindergarten literacy education, thinking that each standard is best “taught” directly, thus missing opportunities for authentic language and literacy practices, embedded in activities with larger conceptual goals.
child raising hand in classOn the other hand, we have been quite underwhelmed by the lack of complexity of the learning expectations in a number of standards at the kindergarten level. Take for instance, Reading Standards for Literature Standard 6, “Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.” At the kindergarten level, the standard reads, “With prompting and support, name the author and illustrator of a story and define the role of each in telling the story,” which contributes almost nothing to the development of the anchor standard. We would support a higher standard to be achieved with support, such as, “With guidance and support, describe differences among characters’ points of view and how those differences affect character feelings and actions.”

The problem with a number of the kindergarten ELA standards is that they represent goals for independent mastery to be demonstrated by the end of the school year. Over-emphasis on what kindergartners are expected to do independently (or with minimal support) can easily translate into classroom practice narrowly focused on very basic skills (often unrelated to the anchor standards), with few of the higher-level foci of the anchor standards being modeled and supported in early education. There are many other places in the more complex strands of the standards where standards at the K level either: (1) do not include a grade level standard, or (2) “dumb down” what children are expected to do in K, even with adult support (see extended discussion and detailed examples in Hoffman, Paciga, & Teale, 2014).

To be clear, we are not arguing to up the ante for kindergarteners’ independent reading performance. However, we do argue strongly for upping their daily participation in collaborative experiences with teachers and peers around complex literacy tasks that are better aligned to later grade level and anchor standards, e.g., modeling and discussion through think alouds and guiding questions in interactive read alouds of complex texts and shared writing activities. It is important to remember that students require much collaborative practice with complex literacies in early childhood before they will be able to demonstrate proficiency independently in later grades.


The good, the bad, and the solution

April 1, 2015

The first responses addressing concerns about CCSS in early childhood education are from Kathleen A. Paciga, Columbia College Chicago;  Jessica L. Hoffman, Winton Woods City School District; and William H. Teale, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Literacy instruction may become limited to a few texts and drill-and-kill teaching.

There are two issues embedded in this concern: (1) drill/didactic literacy teaching and (2) too few texts.

With respect to the concern about drill-and-kill teaching, we believe: That teachers should teach literacy in kindergarten.

The CCSS propose a list of specific English/Language Arts concepts and skills that kindergartners should learn (and therefore teachers should teach).

research set 2Good news: The list includes both foundational and higher-level skills; and it encompasses not only reading, but also writing and a rather robust conception of oral language.

Potential bad news: Many educators look at the standards and conclude that the best way to effect children’s learning of them is to teach them–the interpretation of the word teach being sit them down and give them specific lessons on the specific skills so that they can practice and thereby learn those skills.

Problem: This conception of teaching is drill-and-kill. It is not even recommended on “constrained skills” of early literacy, such as alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness, and is totally useless for impacting “unconstrained skills” such as comprehension, composing in writing, or integrating knowledge and ideas.

Solution: As much as possible, embed intentional literacy instruction in the context of content-rich, meaningful activities (such as dramatic play, science activities, and thematic units like the Farm to Table example discussed in Hoffman, et al. (2014).

 Too few texts: Here’s the good news about the K-1 Text Exemplars (see CCSS-ELA Appendix B): the stories, poetry, and read aloud selections listed there are, for the most part, high quality literature (“text selections…worth reading and re-reading” that “will encourage students and teachers to dig more deeply into their meanings than they would with lower quality material”), and they are also works that would be engaging to many kindergartners. Here’s the bad news about those exemplars:

  • They are unacceptably under-representative of multicultural literature and international literature for U.S. children.
  • They are prone to be regarded as “the Common Core texts we need to include in our program.” (We have repeatedly seen instances of school administrators purchasing the list of books included in Appendix B.) This is very problematic, as the CCSS do intend that these particular books serve as the basis for the curriculum, and there are SO many other books available that can more appropriately be used, depending on the particular school in question.
  • Far too many kindergarten teachers have little knowledge of children’s literature, and the CCSS provide no resources for them to use in selecting books beyond the few text exemplars included.

Top concerns about Common Core State Standards in early childhood education

March 26, 2015

There’s been lots of discussion about the Common Core State Standards recently, and their impact on classroom activity and child outcomes. Common Core is a major policy initiative to reform K-12 classroom practices, raise expectations and implement a new generation of assessments (at least in grades 3 and up), so it has major implications for Kindergarten-3rd grade (and early childhood education) teachers, children, and parents. It must be examined critically and debated. As we know, even if the policy is sound, implementation matters.

children in classA recurring concern is that the Common Core State Standards were developed from the top-down (setting standards for 12th graders first, and then working backwards to set expectations for the lower grades, failing to take sufficient account of research-based learning progressions for children from birth-age 5. A related issue: Some feel there was insufficient involvement of early childhood research experts in language, literacy, mathematics, and child development in the standards development process.

Over the next few weeks, we plan to have experts comment on the top concerns and issues we’ve heard about CCSS.

  • Rigorous standards may lead to reduced play and rich activity in preschool and Kindergarten classrooms.
  • Literacy instruction may become limited to a few texts and drill-and-kill teaching.
  • The standards are complex and extensive, and there is little guidance for teachers to implement them in Kindergarten classrooms.
  • Parents don’t understand the CCSS and are concerned about what they mean for their children.
  • The Kindergarten standards for literacy are not appropriate for children that age.
  • Assessment related to reaching standards will not be developmentally appropriate, and results may be misused.
  • Alignment with K-12 standards will mean teaching methods, subjects, and assessments that are not developmentally appropriate will be pushed down to preschool levels.
  • Math standards will be too challenging for young children.

We welcome your participation as well. Please comment and weigh in on the concerns and our experts’ responses.


Overcoming the Pitfalls of Early Childhood Assessment

October 3, 2014

In the age of accountability, data collection seems to be in vogue. Data are now routinely collected nationwide on children, classrooms, and teachers. The data help teachers and schools improve their programs to meet the needs of children attending. Most states are conducting child assessments in early childhood classrooms (including Kindergarten Entry Assessments). The relevant literature has classified two types of assessment for children, summative and formative. Summative assessment provides teachers with a snapshot of student’s understanding which is useful for summarizing student learning. Formative assessment occurs during instruction and provides teachers with a tool to improve student achievement by informing instruction with these data in an ongoing process.

Assessing children is often “unreliable” as young children’s performance is not necessarily consistent over even short periods of
time, and contextual influences and emotional states are especially relevant for this group. For these reasons, tests administered teacher teaching numbers at one point in time alone may not provide an accurate picture of the child’s concept knowledge, skills, or understanding. Teachers need an effective assessment to understand children’s development and to help guide their instruction. This instrument should allow them to collect evidence about what students know, determine their skills, and measure their strengths and weaknesses. Researchers at NIEER have developed the Early Learning Scale (ELS) for preschool children, and have recently completed developing and evaluating the Kindergarten Early Learning Scale (KELS) to do just this.

The ELS and KELS observation-based scales offer teachers:

  • The opportunity to assess learning in the children’s natural environment during typical instruction;
  • An assessment of children’s development and skills across several domains;
  • An assessment approach that focuses on strengths and interests of children;
  • Information on children’s progress, to share with parents, that is understandable and complete; and
  • Data to inform their teaching practices and report on student growth.

The ELS and KELS are used by teachers of young children as they become participant-observers and engage in an iterative process over time. They can implement a formative assessment process that includes:

  1. observing and investigating young children’s individual behaviors as a seamless part of instruction;
  2. documenting and reflecting on the evidence;
  3. analyzing and evaluating the data in relation to set goals or a trajectory of learning;
  4. hypothesizing and planning which considers what the children are demonstrating and the implications for instruction; and
  5. guiding and instructing where the data helps the teacher target the needs of the children and scaffold their learning to the next level.

The ELS and KELS fill a need for a succinct and manageable way to assess preschool and kindergarten children across domains. NIEER researchers developed these instruments to be responsive to teachers request for a multi-domain assessment that can be used to improve teaching and learning, without overburdening the teacher. The ELS and KELS provide this by spanning several domains (math, science, social and emotional, language and literacy, and physical development), but maintaining a manageable number of items to evaluate.

Items are included in the ELS and KELS for skills that:

  • are measurable/observable;
  • develop on a continuum; and
  • are critical to present and future learning, as defined by research.

A new report from NIEER confirms that the KELS is a reliable and valid measure. Teachers were able to achieve acceptable reliability with a mean of .70 on the instrument. This indicates that teachers are able to effectively score data consistently across programs. Further, results demonstrated acceptable levels of validity with moderate relationships with standardized measures in appropriate and meaningful ways. This means that the items on the KELS that align with the content of the standardized test relate well and those same items appropriately do not relate well to standardized tests that measure different constructs.

For more information about using the ELS or KELS contact me at sayers@nieer.org.

–Shannon Riley-Ayers is an Assistant Research professor for NIEER/CEELO.


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