New Draft K-12 Standards Are Good Starting Point, But Areas of Concern Exist

(INDIANAPOLIS)“The basic content of the new Indiana draft standards [released last week by the Department of Education and State Board of Education] is along the lines of what we expected and draws heavily on our last two sets of standards. This is a reasonable outcome,” offers Derek Redelman, Indiana Chamber of Commerce vice president of education and workforce development policy.

As the public review process continues, the Indiana Chamber is focused on areas of change proposed in the K-12 draft standards that, per Redelman, are “worth a second look to make sure they represent the best approach.”

English/Language Arts

One area of concern is in the Reading and Literature section. More standards were added there than in any other. The Indiana Chamber believes this warrants close examination by educators to see if there is enough time to properly teach what is contained in the draft standards.

But the deletion of some standards is also an issue.

Amy Marsh, a former educator and the Indiana Chamber’s director of college and career readiness initiatives, is testifying at today’s public hearing in Indianapolis. She’s troubled by the systematic removal of “anchor standards” across all grade levels in the English/Language Arts section, which were in Indiana’s current standards.

“An example of an anchor standard is ‘determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development’ … students would be able to do more with this anchor standard as their schooling progresses,” Marsh states.

“For example, in grade three reading, that may result in asking students to answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers. Meanwhile in grade nine reading, students would need to determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; or provide an objective summary of the text.”

This continuous organizational structure, according to Marsh, “would enable teachers, parents and students to better appreciate the progression of learning.” 

Mathematics

Far greater challenges, however, exist in the mathematics draft. “For most grade levels, more content has been added on top of what’s in our current standards. That will result in our standards having breadth over depth, again. That should not be the goal as it leads to more memorization than an actual understanding of the content,” Redelman explains. “It leads to the curriculum being too crowded, making it virtually impossible to properly teach or learn.”

The Indiana Chamber commissioned Dr. Schauna Findlay, president of the Indiana Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, to examine the draft standards. She says, “The entire mathematics section simply isn’t in as good of shape overall as the English/Language Arts section is.”

For high school math, there is redundancy and possible confusion. “Because standards’ statements were pulled together from various sources, there are places where terminology is inconsistent and where standards are near duplicates,” Dr. Findlay notes.

“Also, until these high school standards are divided into courses, it is incredibly difficult to properly assess them because it’s impossible to determine which draft statement might be a foundational skill taught in Algebra I that goes deeper in Algebra II, for example, or if they are two closely related/redundant standards.”

The Indiana Chamber is also concerned about making modifications without taking into account the impact.

“There are a few additions or changes that make it seem like rigor is being increased because it’s happening at an earlier grade level,” Marsh begins. “But, in actuality, moving that standard up in a child’s education is just inappropriate and too early – and even may have negative consequences on student learning.”

One example is in math: the concept of probability. This has been moved up to grade three; previously it was not added until middle school.  

“Probability is an abstract concept and students in third grade are concrete thinkers. It teaches them that it’s OK to guess and that math doesn’t always make sense. Some kids will get it, but some kids won’t,” asserts Dr. Findlay.

“That really should not be a goal of our math instruction. Our recommendation is to move this to middle school, where it is taught in the majority of other state standards.”

The Indiana Chamber is strongly encouraging educators to take the time to review the draft standards and to make sure they weigh in on both what is good about the standards and what may raise a red flag for them.

“Their recommendations and comments are very important in making sure that Indiana has the best standards that allow teachers to teach high quality curriculum,” Redelman states. “That should be the goal for all of us – having the best possible college and career-ready standards.”

To see a list of differences between the new draft standards and Indiana’s existing standards, go to www.indianachamber.com/education. You can also watch Dr. Findlay’s recap for educators at the Indiana Chamber’s YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/INChamber

The Indiana Chamber also commissioned Dr. Findlay to conduct a side-by-side comparison of Indiana’s current and previous standards, along with the highly-touted standards from Massachusetts and from two states that did not adopt the Common Core academic standards. The results of this effort – to see what possible recommendations should be offered to the State Board of Education – will be released later this week or early next week.

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The Indiana Chamber partners with 15,000 members and investors – representing 2.6 million Hoosiers – to achieve the mission of “cultivating a world-class environment which provides economic opportunity and prosperity.”

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