The Principal’s Role in Implementing the Common Core State Standards: New Ways of Thinking About Teaching Math and English Language Arts Standards

This blog is the second in a series of blogs by Mel Riddile, Associate Director for High School Services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, on the principal’s role in implementing the Common Core State Standards.

Both the Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA) standards in the Common Core State Standards demonstrate a logical progression through the grades so that a fourth grade teacher will understand how the standard being taught on a particular day relates to the standard in grades five, six, and beyond. In fact, teachers will be able to understand how what they are doing each day leads to college and career-readiness.

The new Math standards represent a “focus on focus.” Instead of the current mile wide and inch deep approach, teachers will be expected to cover fewer standards in much more depth. According to 40-year veteran math teacher, Stuart Singer, the author of The Algebra Miracle, “if properly implemented, these new standards will completely change the way math is taught.”

The new Math Standards represent deep and significant changes, including:

  • Teachers and school leaders will now be able to “think across grades.”
  • Content knowledge - Teachers, including those in the lower grades will now have to possess a deep conceptual understanding of math concepts and teach students to, not simply work through problems.
  • Application of what they have learned in problem-solving activities related to real-world situations.
  • Students will be expected to demonstrate math fluency as well as critical thinking skills.
  • Math, teachers will not only have to change what they teach, but now they must incorporate literacy skills, including close reading and writing, into their classroom routines.

The changes in ELA are profound and wide-reaching and include:

  • Increased emphasis on Non-Fiction and Informational Texts. It is important to note that this does not mean that we are abandoning literature and fictional text.
  • In most states there will be a dramatic increase in Text Complexity
  • An emphasis on a new kind of reading--“Close Reading.”
  • The renewed emphasis on a skill that all too infrequently practiced in many classrooms--Writing, particularly argumentative writing.
  • Regular Practice with Complex Text and explicit instruction in Academic Vocabulary.
  • The introduction of Listening and Speaking skills.

Perhaps the most significant change to high schools is the emphasis on cross-content or school wide literacy—reading, writing, thinking, listening, discussing. It is important note that, despite advances in the field of adolescent literacy over the past decade, few high schools across the country have comprehensive school wide literacy initiatives that include reading for comprehension, writing, listening and speaking.

From a practical standpoint, secondary schools simply lack the capacity to integrate literacy instruction in the content areas. Even if teachers were receptive to the idea of incorporating literacy into their daily instruction, they lack the training and resources to deliver that instruction. If cross-content literacy were the only change that will result from CCSS implementation, educators’ task would be formidable. A comprehensive schoolwide literacy initiative is, however, only the beginning of the changes.

Check back tomorrow for the third piece in this series on the Common Core State Standards.

Guest Author: Mel Riddle, Ed.D., is the Associate Director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Note: This blog post was originally authored under the auspices of the National High School Center at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). The National High School Center’s blog, High School Matters, which ran until March 2013, provided an objective perspective on the latest research, issues, and events that affected high school improvement. The CCRS Center plans to continue relevant work originally developed under the National High School Center grant. National High School Center blog posts that pertain to CCRS Center issues are included on this website as a resource to our stakeholders.

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