Mid-March greetings! We are now back to school following the February break, and with the return of students and staff comes their lively energy and wonderful dedication. After any vacation I am reminded anew of the special spirit at the St. Johnsbury School!

This week's column looks ahead to the Common Core state standards that will drive curriculum, instruction and assessment for all Vermont schools. In fact, the Common Core standards have been adopted by 48 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia. The standards define the rigorous skills and knowledge that need to be effectively taught and learned by students. They are called "college and career readiness standards." This means that the standards align with college and work expectations so that high school graduates will possess the skills, understandings and knowledge that they need to succeed in college and in careers.

Common Core standards have been developed for two areas: mathematics and language arts. This week I will discuss the mathematics standards; in the next column, I will discuss the language arts standards.

The standards are meant to be "fewer, clearer, and higher." The introduction to the Common Core document states that "for over a decade, research studies of mathematics education in high-performing countries have pointed to the conclusion that the mathematics curriculum in the United States must become substantially more focused and coherent in order to improve mathematics achievement in this country." The Common Core standards are meant to promote that focus and coherence.

Rigor is another key element in the Common Core. The standards include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills. Students will be asked to demonstrate deep conceptual understanding through the application of content knowledge and skills to new situations. Certainly this arises in real life experiences! The goal is that students will be prepared for the 21st century.

The workgroups included representatives from participating states, a wide range of educators, content experts, researchers, national organizations and community groups. Their work was informed by the standards of other high performing nations so the standards are said to be "internationally benchmarked." The goal is that students will be prepared to succeed in our global economy and society.

There are eight standards for mathematical practice that describe what mathematically proficient students are able to do. They represent the skill sets which mathematics teachers should seek to develop in their students. First, students must be able to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. Second, they must be able to reason, both abstractly and quantitatively. Third, students need to construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others. This means that during math class, students need to be justifying their conclusions, communicating their reasoning to others, using data as evidence, comparing explanations and detecting flaws, asking questions, and testing out their mathematical predictions.

Fourth, students need to be able to apply the mathematics they know to solve problems arising in everyday life, society and the workplace. Fifth, students must be able to use appropriate tools strategically. These tools might include pencil and paper, concrete models, rulers and protractors, calculators, spreadsheets, statistics programs, geometry software and others. Certainly the use of technological tools is a critical area in mathematics teaching.

Sixth, successful math students must attend to precision -- communicating precisely, using clear definitions and appropriate symbols, specifying units and labeling models, calculating accurately. Seventh, students must be able to discern patterns and structures, transfer these patterns or structures to other similar situations and expand upon them. Last, in cases of repeated reasoning or repeated calculations, students need to look for and discover general methods and for shortcuts. They need to be able to abstract rules or principles, as well as continually evaluate the reasonableness of their results.

At St. Johnsbury, we are currently planning what professional development mathematics teachers will need and what curriculum work teacher teams will need to do as we transition to the Common Core standards. It is exciting work; it is important work. We are committed to educational excellence for St. Johnsbury's students!


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