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Triangle High Five: A letter to the Academic Review Standards Commission

Dear Academic Standards Review Commission members,

These districts serve more than 234,000 students.

On behalf of Triangle High Five, a regional consortium of five public school districts in the Research Triangle area (Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools and Durham, Johnston, Orange and Wake County Public Schools), we want to thank you for accepting the challenge of reviewing North Carolina’s Standard Course of Study for Mathematics and English Language Arts. This is an enormous task, but a crucial effort that will impact every student and teacher in our state.

After reading the “Recommendations for Course of Action and Timeline for Completion” and reviewing the proposed “ARSC Timeline and Actions,” we have several comments and concerns we would like to share with you on behalf of students and teachers in our districts.

All of the Triangle High Five districts are strong proponents of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.

What we currently observe in our math classrooms on a daily basis indicates that the standards have lived up to their promise of being:

Courtesy of Johnston County Schools
Courtesy of Johnston County Schools

• Fewer, clearer, and higher, to best drive effective policy and practice;
• Aligned with college and work expectations, so that all students are prepared for success upon graduating from high school;
• Inclusive of rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills, so that all students are prepared for the 21st century;
• Internationally benchmarked, so that all students are prepared for succeeding in our global economy and society; and
• Research and evidence-based.”

In the “The State of State Standards – and the Common Core – in 2010,” a report produced by the Fordham Institute, the North Carolina 2003 Standard Course of Study received a letter grade of “D”, scoring only 3 out of 7 for content and rigor. At that time, the North Carolina math standards were described as “ among the worst in the country.” With the adoption of the Common Core, North Carolina’s math standards improved to an “A-”. The North Carolina education community clearly saw that our standards prior to 2010 were not up to par. We are confident that the new standards are a great improvement over the 2003 NC Standard Course of Study.

Courtesy of Johnston County Schools
Courtesy of Johnston County Schools

For the past three years, the Triangle High Five districts, as well as districts across the state, have worked diligently to implement the new standards. District leadership teams have spent countless hours and enormous resources revising curriculum, creating and delivering professional development, strengthening teaching and learning in our classrooms and educating parents about the new standards and expectations for students. Now that we are in the fourth year of this journey, we have witnessed teachers and students rising to the challenges inherent in the new standards. Overwhelmingly, teachers across the state view the standards in a positive manner, as evidenced by the educator survey conducted by NCDPI. In addition, the teachers in our districts have expressed how they see and hear students engaging with mathematics at a higher level than ever before. Parents and business communities in our districts are also supportive as evidenced by their communications to us via phone conversations, e-mails, and face-to-face conversations at parent and business partner meetings. Parents understand that the changes in the standards are necessary to better prepare our students for an increasingly competitive global economy.

Included in the “Recommendations for Course of Action and Timeline for Completion” is the recommendation to “eliminate high school Math I, II and III, otherwise known as ‘Integrated Math,’ and return to the traditional math course curriculum as soon as possible.” This is of grave concern to us.

The Triangle High Five districts led the initiative requesting that NCDPI and the State Board eliminate the dual pathway system for high school and establish one pathway that integrates the six mathematical domains of Number & Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Geometry, Probability & Statistics, and Modeling.

The integrated approach has flexibility to ensure topics unfold in a manner that considers the developmental appropriateness of the content, similar to how K-8 standards are organized (both in the new standards and in the previous 2003 Standard Course of Study). Students make sense of mathematics when they connect concepts across the six mathematical domains. Using the integrated approach helps students make these connections more naturally. NCDPI established a High School Math Task Force in Spring of 2013 that consisted of math curriculum specialists from across the state. The Task Force overwhelmingly supported a single, integrated pathway.

In the expert opinion of seasoned math educators from all five districts, we believe the current standards are good for students and a significant improvement over the previous standards.

North Carolina has invested an extraordinary amount of time and resources on the implementation of these standards. We look forward to reviewing any proposed changes and will provide input on how those changes will impact the work we have been doing with our teachers and students to improve mathematics teaching and learning in our state. We must stress that a complete overhaul of the standards at this point would be premature, as we lack significant data to guide that process.

We have included a list of research findings, journal articles, and potential presenters that we respectfully request the ARSC consider as recommendations are written. In addition,

We believe the voices of North Carolina classroom teachers and teacher leaders need to be included in the Commission’s deliberations.

Their professional experiences are immeasurably valuable to the review process given that they analyze, utilize, and reflect on the standards with our students on a daily basis.

Again, thank you for taking on this monumental task. Representatives from the Triangle High Five districts would be happy to meet with you to discuss these issues further.

Sincerely,

Thomas Forcella, Triangle High Five Chair

Triangle High Five Board of Directors

Thomas Forcella, Superintendent, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
Bert L’Homme, Superintendent, Durham Public Schools
Ed Croom, Superintendent, Johnston County Schools
Del Burns, Superintendent, Orange County Schools
James Merrill, Superintendent, Wake County Public Schools

Triangle High Five Math Collaborative

LuAnn Malik, K-12 Mathematics Coordinator, Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools
Terri Parker, Elementary Mathematics Specialist, Durham Public Schools
Lynn Marcin, Elementary Mathematics Specialist, Durham Public Schools
Amy Gross, Secondary Mathematics Specialist, Durham Public Schools
Chanel Sidbury, Secondary Mathematics Specialist, Durham Public Schools
Leanne Daughtry, Curriculum Specialist, Johnston County Schools
Dawn Alligood, Director of Middle Grades Curriculum, Johnston County Schools
Kelley Johnson, Director of High School Curriculum, Johnston County Schools
Patricia Harris, Director of College and Career Readiness, Orange County Schools
Michelle Tucker, Senior Administrator for Elementary Mathematics, Wake County Public Schools
Christina Zukowski, Senior Administrator for Middle School Mathematics, Wake County Public Schools
Sonia Dupree, Senior Administrator for High School Mathematics, Wake County Public Schools
Drew Cook, Senior Director for High School Programs, Wake County Public Schools

References

Recommendations for Course of Action and Timeline for Completion, Academic Standards Review Commission, January 16, 2015 meeting documents.

ARSC Timeline and Actions, Academic Standards Review Commission, February 16, 2015 meeting documents.

Common Core State Standards Initiative Standards-Setting Criteria, 2010.

The State of State Standards – and the Common Core – in 2010, Carmichael, Martino, Porter-Magee, and Wilson , July 2010.

Math Standards Educator Feedback, Academic Standards Review Commission, January 16, 2015 meeting documents.

Thomas Forcella

Thomas Forcella is the superintendent of Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.