*MST, CCLS, *NGSS, NGS – Alphabet Soup for Math Standards – Where Has the Rigor Gone?

On September 19, 2017, the Associated Press released “Most of the U.S. Uses Common Core, Despite Blowback,” an article bringing readers up-to-date on the status of the states which are using Common Core academic standards. The findings from the 45 states (plus DC) found that eight of the states have repealed the standards, and 21 states have made or are making revisions. New York State has made revisions and adopted the NGS – or Next Generation Standards of Mathematics; renamed as NYSED P-12 Learning Standards for Mathematics to be implemented for the 2017 -2018 school year (formerly this was known as the New York State Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) for Mathematics adopted in 2011 and almost fully implemented in 2016).

For New York State it means that the state has decided that the rigor of Engage Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) for Mathematics was too rigorous for some grade levels. For example, in grades 6 and 7, learning about variations in sets of data was removed from the CCLS math curriculum. The calculation of a set of data’s MAD (mean absolute deviation) was considered too difficult for students to grasp. I have presented the MAD lesson in workshops to teachers- complete with manipulatives to visually represent the concept of how data varies. A good example MAD problem was where students were asked to compare the mean yearly temperature for San Francisco and New York – where is the best place to live?

When students examine the set of monthly average temperature for San Francisco they find that when they average out the monthly temperature the mean yearly temperature is 64 degrees Fahrenheit. In averaging the New York monthly average temperatures, the students find the mean temperature is also 64 degrees. When asked to calculate the MAD for each city, they find out that NYC data has a wide variation – and they can experience hot temperatures in the summer and cold temperatures in the winter. Whereas, San Francisco’s average monthly temperature varies very little.

The basic idea is that if we use a mean temperature of a set of weather data to make decisions of where to live it is not always representative of the actual weather conditions at a location. Therefore, if you like the four seasons, San Francisco may not be the place to live because the MAD, when calculated, is small compared to the MAD for New York.

The EngageNY curricula revisits MAD in grade 7. Then in grade 9 Algebra I students continue to build their understanding of standard deviation based on their grade 6 and 7 MAD experience. Unfortunately, when high school teachers were trained in the new Common Core Algebra I curriculum, MAD was the first point of reference for the variation of data that teachers were asked review. The high school teachers had no clue what MAD was, they were mad. In my presentation I had to train the teachers on the MAD concept, then expect that they would connect it to standard deviation, which is a measurement of the variability of data from a mean.

Math teachers take it to heart that they need to feel confident in teaching their subject. New material, like MAD, was very difficult for the teachers to embrace; and with very limited professional development, the anxiety was pushed onto the students and their parents. It was a wrong assertion by the educational powers to be that the teachers would easily accept a new and more rigorous Common Core math curriculum.

I found that in order for me to develop a one-day Common Core grade level math workshop, I would need to spend eight hours a day for a week reading the 1300 page per module playbook (how to teach users manual). As I was reading every page of the manual and registering the time it took me to understand every sentence and solve every problem, it got me thinking: How will a secondary math teacher teaching 150 students a day, planning the next day’s lesson, correcting papers, find the time to read the manuals? Each EngageNY Common Core secondary math curriculum (grades 6-8, Algebra I, Geometry, Algebra II) consisted of four to seven modules.

Because of the inadequate rollout of the Common Core, the pushback from parents and educators resulted in a reduced rigor. The students are OK with rigor, but teachers had a difficult time with the delivery of the lessons; and parents had a rough time helping their children with math homework. I have witnessed great math teaching where middle school (grade 7) students were learning about “groups”, an abstract algebra concept related to operations on number systems. The students at this Harlem, NY middle school were creating a Cayley array (multiplication table), representing composition of rotations and reflections of triangles exploring the closure of operations.

Sounds like gibberish! Not to the students who were completing the tables and finding identities and inverses. Not one student was stressed- they were just having fun because this was a new way to understand products of transformations(rotations and reflections). The teacher was amazing in transferring his love of learning high-level math to his students.

Back to MAD. With the deletion of the rigor, many teachers were told that could still have the option of teaching the MAD. But if it isn’t on the state test, why bother?

*MST – New York State Education Department’s 1996 Math Science Technology standards.
*NGSS – Next Generation Science Standards which integrated the Common Core Math Standards into the 2013 document.

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