NCTM Denver 2013: Fennell and Wray's Math Specialists Get Ready Now: Common Core Assessments Are Coming

Annual Meeting - Friday, April 19, 3:30 pm

Francis (Skip) Fennell - NCTM Past President; McDaniel College, Westminster, Maryland
Jon Wray - NCTM Board of Directors; Howard County Public Schools, Ellicott City, Maryland

Skip Fennell, Jon Wray, and Beth Kobett (who was absent for this presentation) are the leads on ems&tl, the Elementary Mathematics Specialists & Teacher Leaders Project. As the name implies, the focus here is on supporting math specialists, such as district-level curriculum directors, instructional coaches, and anyone who is in a position to support mathematics teachers.

For this presentation, Fennell and Wray looked at the upcoming Common Core assessments, PARCC and Smarter Balanced (SB), and suggested ways math specialists can help teachers prepare for the tests.

Francis (Skip) Fennell

The challenge Fennell and Wray presented was essentially to focus on the upcoming assessments and respect the influence they will have on curriculum and instruction, without focusing too narrowly on the assessments and cause instruction and learning to suffer. This means, for example, not turning classroom practice into test prep, and using sample items from both PARCC and SB wisely.

Fennell and Wray used the concept of assessment literacy to describe the ability for teachers and specialists to understand a testing program. Many teachers have no formal training in assessment, so math specialists must be able to help them build their assessment literacy. Part of this is simply becoming more familiar with the schedules and formats of the upcoming PARCC and SB assessments. Both consortia offer more than just an end-of-year test, and teachers are going to need to help students interpret new kinds of technology-enabled assessment tasks.

Jon Wray

Fennell sees great potential in the CCSSM, but said, "If the Common Core becomes political, it's dead." Teachers and specialists need to work with the standards in ways that doesn't reduce them to a checklist of vaguely connected ideas. Using a number of items and task prototypes, Fennell and Wray showed examples of sample items from PARCC and SB and showed the many ways these could be used richely in lessons if the teacher provides the right support and instruction. "There are a lot of ways sample items can be used as instructional gems, " said Fennell. A list of potential questions and strategies for various tasks can be found in their slides.

The presentation wrapped up with an urging to better understand the role of formative assessment around these sample tasks. Also, encouragement was made to use materials from both PARCC and SB, regardless of the test your state has adopted. More task resources were linked to, including Illustrative Mathematics, the Institute for Mathematics and Education (especially the progressions documents), The Mathematics Common Core Toolbox, the PARCC Educator Leader Cadre Portal, and the Smarter Balanced Scientific Sample Pilot Test Portal.

The slides for this presentation are available here.