Monday, March 2, 2009

What Children Should Know -- Setting Academic Standards

The Learning Institute has just published an interview with Sandra Stotsky, former Senior Associate Commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Education. (She is currently holder of the Endowed Chair in Teacher Quality at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville).

Stotsky provides extensive details in the interview on how Massachusetts rose to the top.

But perhaps the most valuable segments of the interview are her suggestions for Arkansas (or any state, for that matter) on how to create high-quality academic-content standards in English and math:

English Language Arts (ELA) Standards
Arkansas should look at the organization of the most highly rated ELA standards documents (California, Indiana, Massachusetts) and decide upon a small set of major strands. Then it should work out vertical or developmental progressions for substrands in each area. These substrands should show the major intellectual changes or highlights that are reasonable to expect of students over the grades: in reading fiction, poetry, drama, and informational texts; in completing a research paper; in writing expository and persuasive compositions; in learning oral and written language conventions; in developing speaking skills; in developing a reading and writing vocabulary; and in understanding and using media. The number of objectives in each strand should be reasonable. Standards documents should be frameworks for a curriculum, not the curriculum itself.

Mathematics Standards

[In Massachusetts], I drew on the services of a mathematics professor to make sure that the revised standards at each grade level were mathematically correct and in a coherent sequence for mathematical learning. We also reduced as much as possible the pedagogical material in the original document.... Here in Arkansas, the state should consider three steps in order to support a leaner and more coherent math curriculum framework:
1) It should involve several of the state's mathematicians as well as teachers at different educational levels in spelling out the math content to be taught from grade to grade;
2) It should use the recommendations in the National Mathematics Advisory Panel's report to guide what should be emphasized from grade to grade to prepare all students for an authentic Algebra I course; and
3) For international benchmarking, it should refer to what the high-achieving countries on the TIMSS assessment (Trends in Mathematics and Science Study) teach in their K-8 lean and coherent math curricula.

From my experience on the California State Standards Commission and elsewhere, this is excellent advice.

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