Assignment desk: CCSS Math curriculum rankings

Since the release of the Common Core state math standards two year ago, math textbook writers and publishers have fallen over themselves to release new or “updated” curriculum resources that they declare to be “aligned” with the new expectations. Unfortunately, until recently there have been scant resources available to educators seeking to determine whether any of these ballyhooed instructional materials have truly been aligned with the content and rigor of the new expectations.

The criteria are clear, readable, and user-friendly.

Enter the lead authors of the CCSSM and their just-released “K-8 Publishers Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” While ostensibly aimed at publishers earnestly struggling to align their resources with CCSSM, the ten criteria (and accompanying rubric) can also be used by math teachers, department heads, instructional specialists, principals, and superintendents who are wading through and trying to judge the quality and alignment of materials for their schools and classrooms. They can, in fact, be treated as a “buyer’s guide” that helps show which publishers have made the necessary changes for this big shift in math education. And here is hoping that is one way they get used.

The criteria are clear, readable, and user-friendly. For instance, one of the most critical aspects of the standards is their focus on essential content. “Focus,” the criteria explain, “requires that we significantly narrow the scope of content in each grade so that students more deeply experience that which remains.” To that end, the first criterion unambiguously states that, in any grade, students and teachers using properly aligned curriculum materials will spend approximately three-quarters of their time on the “major work” of the grade as set forth in the Common Core. The second criterion goes a step further and delineates some content that would not be included in CCSS-aligned material. It says, for instance, that probability (and kindred topics) should not be included before grade seven. Statistical distributions should not be included before grade six. And similarity, congruence, or geometric transformations should not be included before grade eight. For educators looking to narrow their search for quality CCSSM-aligned materials, this kind of explicit guidance is welcome.

The clarity of these criteria may unnerve some publishers.

The clarity of these criteria may unnerve some publishers, as they make it harder for the authors of some popular resources to claim alignment to the new standards without, in fact, making significant, maybe even profound, alterations to their content. But, if we’re going to give teachers the resources they need to drive CCSS-aligned instruction, this is exactly the clarity we need.

What's next? The criteria and illustrative rubric definitely make it easier for every district to carry out its own evaluation of available materials to judge their quality and alignment to the CCSSM. But should they have to? Should states or an independent watchdog group weigh in to provide educators with some guidance and point them to a handful of the best resources available? What about those five big national organizations—the NGA, CCSSO, Achieve, the Council of Great City Schools, and NASBE—whose logos appear at the top of these criteria? Who is going to name names: Which materials ARE well aligned and which are not?

A few big publishing houses have largely cornered the textbook market. Now that we have an independent way to judge materials, however, we also have the opportunity to work with smaller publishers, nonprofits, and teacher-created resources that might be as good—one hopes much better!—than the mostly mediocre (and now seriously antiquated) stuff that’s been lining classroom shelves for decades.

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