CCTM 2009: An Overview of the New Standards/Revisions to the High School Math Standards

Presenter: Melissa Colsman, Colorado Department of Education
Presenter: Julie Stremel, Aurora Public Schools

I attended two sessions regarding the revisions to the Colorado math standards, the first covering a broad overview of the revision process for K-12 and the second looking more specifically at the changes being made to the high school math standards. The first session was presented by Melissa Colsman, math content specialist from CDE, and the second by Julie Stremel of Aurora Public Schools. Stremel is a member of the standards review committee.

Standards revision in Colorado is being driven by two pieces of legislation: Senate Bill 212 (CAP4K) and House Bill 1168. The standards are still in the revision process, but barring any major changes or deliberation they should be ready to submit as a final draft to the state board of education within the next several months. The goal is to create standards that are "fewer, clearer, and higher." We will be shrinking from six standards to four, although it's not clear that any significant content is being removed rather than reorganized. (Example: Previously geometry and measurement were two standards and now they have been combined into one. I'll leave it up to you to decide if that qualifies as "fewer.") The new standards have been developed with a single goal in mind: producing competent, prepared high school graduates who are ready to succeed at 2- and 4-year colleges, trade schools, the military, and the workforce.

As for clearer, CDE is removing the repetitive language from grade to grade by only listing a standard at the grade level it is expected to be mastered by students. CDE is letting districts, schools, and teachers decide how to build up to that mastery and for how long. For example, a particular algebra standard might be listed for 7th grade, but students will need to be introduced to that topic in 5th grade and take three years to build to mastery level. The current standards made a greater effort to describe the progression towards mastery from grade to grade, but too often the distinctions between grade levels were too vague to be helpful.

Perhaps the biggest change to the math standards comes from House Bill 1168. That bill called for greater financial literacy for students and CDE has decided that those parts of personal financial literacy (PFL) that are mathematical in nature will be assessed on the math CSAP. Schools are going to have to determine who is responsible for teaching that material, whether it be a math teacher, business teacher, economics teacher, or some other teacher.

New assessments are expected for 2011-2012. They will probably still be CSAPs, just not as we currently know them. There is a push by CDE to make them more formative rather than summative, and there is some possibility that they might, at least in part, become computer-based to speed data collection, scoring, and data dissemination.

Previous high school CSAPs have specified only one of the three testing sessions where students could use an approved calculator. CDE now expects calculators and appropriate technology to be used for all high school content, as mastery of arithmetic should have been shown prior to high school. Teachers will no longer have to worry about teaching students a bit of math using their calculators only to find that it's assessed on a non-calculator portion of the CSAP.

Probability and statistics take a larger role in the new standards, which likely means they will be as big a part of the CSAP as algebra. The new probability and statistics content was designed using the GAISE report that I wrote about previously.

High school standards are no longer organized by grade. I know from personal experience it was difficult to deliver a geometry course to sophomores (nevermind the non-sophomores who might also be taking geometry) using a text that was primarily geometry, when I knew the 10th grade standards asked for mastery of topics spread across all six standards. For the revised standards, CDE decided to "bucket" the standards. Grade levels are no longer important at the high school level. When a student has practiced geometry content and is ready to show mastery, then they will take the geometry assessment. That might be 9th grade for some, 12th grade for others, and it will be up to each district/school to decide how to make their curriculum work. The Standards Review Committee was specifically told to complete the standards revision without regard to assessment, so there is still a great deal of work to do here before the structure and schedule of the new CSAPs is determined.

I wouldn't call the revisions radical, but Colorado districts and schools are going to do their homework and quickly modify their curriculum to meet the new standards. I think high school has the largest challenge because the assessment will probably look so different, but assessing by content, not grade level, was a long-overdue change. As someone who once taught a single section of Algebra 1 with every grade represented from 7 through 12, "bucketing" the high school standards is a most welcome change!