Common Core is changing how schools teach ELA and math

New report finds Common Core is affecting reading and math — but not test scores

States considered strong adopters of Common Core are more likely to see a de-emphasis of fiction and a decline in advanced math enrollment among middle school students, according to a new report that also found a trivial difference in test scores between states that have and have not adopted the standards.

The report, from the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings, pulls data from surveys conducted by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to see how far Common Core recommendations have seeped into states’ instruction, comparing data from 2011 to 2015. The question of whether students should focus on analyzing fiction, which has been traditionally favored by schools, or nonfiction, which is favored by the CCSS, was considered a major implementation hurdle just a few years ago.

On that point, it appears Common Core’s suggestions are winning out over entrenched practice. In 2011, according to the data, 63 percent of students had teachers who said they emphasized fiction, compared with 38 percent of students with teachers who said they were emphasizing nonfiction — a 25 percent gap. By 2015, however, that gap had shrunk to just eight percent, with 45 percent of students who have teachers emphasizing nonfiction. The gap shrunk for eighth grade students from 34 percent in 2011 to 16 percent in 2015.

In math, the report notes that the CCSS take a “more restricted view.” Where content was once focused on five major strands of mathematics — number and operations; algebra; measurement; geometry; and data analysis — CCSS focus on fewer topics and put a greater emphasis on arithmetic. The result for schools? Teachers in Common Core states now focus less on the other strands and fewer eighth grade students are enrolling in advanced math courses related to specific strands; from 2013 to 2015, enrollment in advanced math for those students declined five percent in states adopting Common Core.

Report author Tom Loveless also looked at whether CCSS implementation had really depressed NAEP test scores in 2015, as has been charged. But implementation status wasn’t found to impact the scores one way or the other. Scores from strong, medium, and non-implementers of Common Core were within a single NAEP scale score point — considered negligible. In general, scores were down across the board, regardless of CCSS status. The report concludes, “Whatever is depressing NAEP scores appears to be more general than the impact of one set of standards or another.”

The report, “How well are American students learning?”, also looked at whether the controversial practice of “student tracking” in middle school was related to AP success in high school, and what successful principal leadership looks like when it comes to instruction. It is available online.

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