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Changes in math courses coming

by Cynthia Howell | April 3, 2012 at 4:20 a.m.

— Names of math courses taught in middle and high schools will remain the same, but the content will be different and more challenging in some of those courses as the result of Arkansas school districts adapting to the new national Common Core State Standards.

Much of what is now taught in algebra I will become part of eighth-grade math, and the course labeled algebra I will include many of the concepts now in algebra II, Little Rock School District curriculum directors said Monday at a district-hosted public forum about the new math and English/language arts standards at the Clinton Presidential Center.

The algebra II course over the next couple of years will become more akin to what is now a trigonometry/pre-calculus class, eliminating that pre-calculus course and putting students on a path to take calculus after algebra II.

“There is not a lot of new content, but the content has been shifted around,” Vanessa Cleaver, the Little Rock district’s director of mathematics, said about the effects of the new standards for kindergarten through 12th grades.

Arkansas is one of 45 states plus the District of Columbia that voluntarily adopted the new national standards developed through the collaboration of the nation’s governors and the state directors of education.

Curricula based on the national standards was used for the first time this school year in kindergarten through second grades in Arkansas. Lessons based on the new standards for grades three through eight will be put into place in 2012-13, and the high school standards are set to be the basis for instruction beginning in 2013-14.

States are further participating in consortiums to develop testing programs based on the national standards. That testing, which is expected to be done solely on computers, will begin in 2014-15.

Until now, each state established its own education standards and developed its own state tests.

Cleaver said the primary focus in the elementary grades as a result of the new standards will be on the operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, including how to apply those operations to fractions.

Measurement, algebraic arrays and introduction to geometry concepts also will be taught to elementary pupils before they advance to middle school and are introduced to the concepts now taught in algebra I.

Little Rock’s middle schools will continue to offer two levels of math at each middle school grade: regular math and pre-Advanced Placement math. The pre-Advanced Placement courses are for students who are likely to take Advanced Placement courses in high school to earn college credit.

Following the guidelines of the authors of the national standards, the Little Rock district also will offer a new, accelerated seventh-grade math course for the 3 percent to 5 percent of top-achieving math students, Cleaver said.

Those students will be selected based on their earning As and Bs in sixth-grade pre-Advanced Placement math or on the basis of a test this spring, plus other criteria such as teacher recommendations and state test scores.

Pupils who take the accelerated seventh-grade math class will proceed to take algebra I in eighth grade. Most students, however, will take algebra I in the ninth-grade as a high school course.

Middle school pre-Advanced Placement algebra I as it is now configured and middle school pre-Advanced Placement geometry classes will be taught for the last time in the 2012-13 school year, Cleaver said.

“Will there be learning gaps? That answer is ‘Yes,’” Cleaver said about the effect the transition from one set of math standards to another will have on all students who would not have had the Common Core lessons in previous years.

Some of those missed lessons will be taught in third through seventh grades as soon as this spring, and other lessons will be added into the courses next year, she said.

Karen James, the Little Rock district’s director of elementary literacy and early childhood education, and Suzi Davis, the district’s director of secondary literacy, described the English/language arts standards and the preparation for teaching based on them in English, social studies and science.

In those academic areas, “vertical” teams made up of representative teachers from each middle and high school are developing the curriculum for the grade levels in their subject area, Davis said.

The common core standards are made up of 10 “anchor” standards that apply to kindergarten through 12thgrade, and then are broken down into more specific standards for each grade.

Some of the anchor standards call for students to demonstrate independence, build strong content knowledge, comprehend as well as critique, value evidence, make capable use of technology and digital media, produce and publish documents, and evaluate information presented in different media formats.

“We’re not asking social studies teachers to teach commas, semicolons and colons,” Davis said. “We’re asking them that when they are looking at the Civil War or World War II that they also argue, evaluate, use modern tools, use the discussion and use all of the techniques to learn that we are using in the English class. Use their content, but use the same skills and standards.”

Davis said teachers must be prepared in regard to content because information is being taught at earlier grades than in the past.

“The standards have pushed things down,” she said. “There is a lot more grammar in elementary school. There is a lot more argument and writing and Shakespeare and classic literature in the middle school.”

The Little Rock district has planned two more public forums on the standards: from 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 10 at Roberts Elementary School and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. April 18 at Forest Heights Middle School. The Forest Heights date is a change from what was previously announced.

Arkansas, Pages 9 on 04/03/2012

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