Core math demands more English

Under Common Core standards, math will require more English fluency, writes Pat Wingert on the Hechinger Report.

At Laurel Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, 90 percent of students get a subsidized lunch and 60 percent aren’t yet fluent in English. Yet 83 percent scored at proficient or higher on a recent state language-arts exam, and 91 percent scored that high on the math test.

Laurel Street kids can excel in math while still learning to read and speak English, said fourth-grade math teacher Angel Chavarin. This year, teachers worry the new standards require more sophisticated vocabularies.

“The language demands of the Common Core are enormous,” said Ben Sanders of the California Office to Reform Education. “This is absolutely going to be a big challenge to English learners.”

Common Core emphasizes complex word problems and requires students to explain in writing how they solved the problem, writes Wingert.

Third-grade teacher Alejandra Monroy, who was born in Chile, started a lesson on “repeated addition” with a vocabulary lesson.

“There are very important words you need to know,” she told her class. “If you’re doing a multiplication problem — 3 x 4 = 12 — the numbers `3’ and ‘4’ are the FACTORS and the ‘12’ is the PRODUCT. All the numbers and symbols together—3 x 4 =12—is a “MULTIPLICATION SENTENCE.”

“What is this?” Monroy asked, pointing to the equation.

“A multiplication sentence,” the class echoed back.

Next, Monroy stressed that repeated addition involves “patterns,” in this case, 4+4+4 = 12

We need to know that a pattern is a regular or repeated sequence,” she said. “A pattern can be something like red/blue/red/blue, right? A sequence that repeats. When you count by skipping numbers—2-4-6—you’re doing a PATTERN.”

Laurel Street’s district uses a structured curriculum adapted from Singapore Math by a local teacher.

 To determine if the changes they’re making are on the right track, Laurel Street teachers monitor their kids’ performance in class and on weekly assessments that grade-level teams create together. Each student’s score is then added to a spreadsheet and scrutinized by the principal, all the teachers and even parents and students.

If one class gets better scores than the others, teachers don’t hesitate to compare notes and incorporate the most effective strategies into their own lesson plans, said fifth-grade teacher Rebecca Harris. It’s about collaboration, not competition, she said. “We learn from each other.”

“We do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t work,” says Principal Frank Lozier.

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