Two paths to algebra in California

California will not block eighth-graders from taking algebra if the governor signs SB 1200, writes Deputy Superintendent Lupita Cortez Alcalá in a letter to Bill Lucia of EdVoice. School districts will not be forced “into a misguided one-size-fits-all approach to math education,” she writes.

What it does do is provide for clear and viable pathways: one for students who are ready for higher mathematics (algebra 1 in a traditional sequence and course 1 in an integrated sequence) and another for students who would progress through the grade level standards as called for in the Common Core standards.

Placement of students in mathematics courses, based on their readiness, remains a local decision – as it should be.

. . . adoption of the Common Core State Standards with California’s additions presented some unique challenges. California adopted two sets of eighth grade mathematics standards: the Common Core set and a set that combined elements of the Common Core eighth-grade and high school mathematics standards with California’s own algebra standards. Unfortunately, the “Algebra 1 at Grade 8” standards have created confusion in our school districts as it is a unique amalgamation, different from Algebra I, and not supported by instructional materials or curricula.

In focus groups, teachers and curriculum said “they want high expectations and high standards for their students – but also flexibility to decide when a student is ready for higher mathematics, based upon each student’s classroom performance – not impersonal directives from the Capitol,” concludes Alcalá.

I think this means algebra-ready students will take Algebra I without any Common Core additions. I think . . . (A reform of years gone by, integrated math teaches bits of algebra, geometry, trig and stats each year till students have mastered the concepts. It’s lost popularity.)

New standards, tests may kill teacher ratings

New common standards, which will require new tests, may put the kibosh on value-added ratings of teachers, speculates WashPost columnist Jay Mathews.

California will switch to Common Core Standards in 2014, get new tests in 2015, but no new textbooks aligned with the new standards and tests until 2017, teacher Jerry Heverly learned at a conference organized by his union. The state can’t afford new books.

(Heverly) has no strong feelings about the current tests, but the big change in 2015 is akin to watching a rising tide approach sand castles carefully constructed on the beach.

Integrated Math I, II and III will replace the traditional algebra, geometry, advanced algebra sequence, Heverly was told.  (This is a blast from the past: California adopted integrated math — algebra, geometry and statistics are taught at each level — in 1992. After protests, districts won the right to choose a traditional or integrated approach. New math standards were adopted  five years later, which required a new exam. Integrated math went out of fashion.)

The new standards will require changes in other subjects, as well. And developers say the new tests will be quite different, stressing students’ ability to explain their thinking, not just right answers.  Mathews writes:

These new tests in nearly every state will delay, if not stop altogether, the national move toward rating teachers by student score improvements. School districts can’t do that when the tests change so radically. They might have to wait years to work out the kinks in the tests before using them to assess teachers.

Once the new tests are accepted as valid, it will take years of data on students’ progress to create valid value-added measures of teacher effectiveness.