Officials expected to okay Common Core standards

Common Core

Common Core

JACKSON — Despite ongoing opposition, state education officials are expected to approve new Common Core standards that they say will prompt students to think more analytically and learn less by memorization.

Following discussions held yesterday, the state Board of Education was likely today to approve new high school course descriptions, and a transition plan for standardized tests and new textbook lists.

Mississippi public schools are switching to the new standards even as detractors try to build support in the Legislature to get Mississippi to pull out of Common Core, which has been adopted by 45 states.

Opponents of the program say the standards and accompanying testing represent a federal takeover of education. They also say Common Core is academically flawed and the use of testing data could violate student privacy.

Mississippi Department of Education officials are warning the changeover in high school math could be particularly challenging, with more difficult material pushed into lower grades. The board plans to eliminate math and English courses based on Mississippi’s old standards. But old math courses are likely to remain in the 2014-2015 school year to ease the transition.

“We think the districts will be more prepared at the elementary level,” Associate Superintendent Trecina Green told the board. “We think the challenges will be even greater at the secondary level.”

The state would drop math courses including advanced algebra, trigonometry and statistics, saying those concepts will be wrapped into the sequence leading from 8th-grade math through algebra I, geometry and algebra II. However the state would offer those courses for one more year to students who have already passed Algebra I, saying the new courses are so different that more time is needed for those students to make the switch.

“There is a misalignment between our current math frameworks and the Common Core standards for math,” Green said.

Green said MDE is advising districts to be careful about which eighth-graders are placed in courses that include algebra I, the traditional path that leads to calculus in high school. Only students who have been prepared in seventh grade may be ready for the “compacted” course.

“This is not the same Algebra I that students have been taking over the years,” Green said.

Students would still have to take four years of English and language arts courses, with English I and English II required. Eliminated would be elective courses on the American novel, mythology, the short story and written communication. The department said that material is embedded in new Common Core courses in junior high and high school. One frequent criticism of Common Core is that it reduces the study of literature, substituting nonfiction texts. Defenders say that is not true; that most nonliterary reading takes place in science and history courses. In any case, department employees said few Mississippi schools currently offer courses in novels, short stories and mythology.

The state is finalizing its plan to switch to standardized tests being drawn up by the multistate Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Like Common Core itself, the PARCC tests are a target for opponents, who say they don’t want the federally subsidized effort to be the bar students must clear. Those tests will be piloted this spring, with the state setting passing scores later.

The board is likely to agree Friday to use the PARCC tests in grades 3-8, and to replace subject area tests in Algebra I and English II required for graduation in Mississippi. There are no PARCC science and U.S. history tests, so Mississippi would keep its own graduation exams in those subjects.

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