Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Higher Education Alignment with the Common Core

The August 29, 2014 letter from California's higher education top administrators  announced that "the a-g requirements for CSU and UC admission, specifically areas ‘b’ (English) and ‘c’ (Mathematics), have been updated to align with the Common Core standards."

How that alignment will look is not specified in the letter.

As of today (9/9/14), the UC Mathematics ("c") subject requirements listed publicly do not show alignment with the Common Core State Standards. Instead, they still show expectations of California standards that existed before the CCSSM. For example, in item 2 of Course requirements, "The content for these courses will usually be drawn from the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics [PDF]. While these standards can be a useful guide, coverage of all items in the standards is not necessary for the specific purpose of meeting the 'c' subject requirement....The ICAS Statement of Competencies in Mathematics can provide guidance in selecting topics that require in-depth study." [Emphasis mine.]

A concern for California community colleges is that the alignment to the CCSSM might become what was proposed by the UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) in 2013. In July, BOARS wrote that “… the basic mathematics of the CCSSM can appropriately be used to define the minimal level of mathematical competence that all incoming UC students should demonstrate...As such, BOARS expects that the Transferable Course Agreement Guidelines will be rewritten to clarify that the prerequisite mathematics for transferable courses should align with the college-ready content standards of the CCSSM.”

BOARS clarified (December 2013) that “… going forward, all students must complete the basic mathematics defined by the college-ready standards of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) prior to enrolling in a UC-transferable college mathematics or statistics course.”

The college-ready standards of the CCSSM are simply all the non-plus standards. As written in the CCSSM“The higher mathematics standards specify the mathematics that all students should study in order to be college and career ready. Additional mathematics that students should learn in preparation for advanced courses, such as calculus, advanced statistics, or discrete mathematics, is indicated by a plus symbol (+). All standards without a (+) symbol should be in the common mathematics curriculum for all college and career ready students.” [Emphasis mine]

Thus BOARS has twice stated that it expects all UC students to have all the CCSSM non-plus standards as prerequisite to any course that could receive UC credit.

But what undermines BOARS's credibility is its assessment of how the ICAS statement of competencies and the CCSSM content standards compare. In the opening paragraph of the BOARS July letter: "The most recent version of the ICAS mathematical competency statement makes clear the close alignment between it and the CCSSM. Both define the mathematics that all students should study in order to be college ready." [Emphasis mine.]

In actuality, what ICAS considers essential math content for all students is only a small subset of what the CCSSM specify as necessary. The ICAS document lists four sets of possible high school math topics. The first is Part 1: Essential areas of focus for all entering college students. Appendix B of the ICAS document explicitly shows how the CCSSM include not only the math topics of Part 1 but also the math topics of Parts 2, 3, and 4, which are areas of focus for students in quantitative majors or are areas of focus considered desirable but not essential.