The old adage “If it walks like a duck…” comes to mind when you look at what the Springfield Public School Board is deciding to adopt for their “new’ math curriculum. They will tell you they aren’t using Common Core standards but…

On February 5th the Board had on their agenda consideration for spending half a million dollars for LearnZillion and Open Up Resources (OUR). Both vendors are associated with Illustrative Math (IM) which is, according to their website, “dedicated to helping develop, teach and implement the Common Core Standards for mathematics.”

How did they get here?

In 2015 the district, via their IGNite Initiative, provided almost 25,000 mobile devices to teachers and students, devices loaded with iReady software which includes formative (think shorter and more frequent) assessments designed to let the teachers know if students are ready for the big year-end assessments. The iReady Standards Mastery software is described as, “Built to cover Common Core standards for Reading, Language, and Mathematics, the new assessments complement the rich data offered by i-Ready Diagnostic by providing detailed information on individual standards as they are covered in the classroom [emphasis added].

“Schools and districts will get Just- in-time information on student’s mastery of the [CCSS] standards . . ..

iReady was mentioned several times at the February 5th meeting by district leadership, as the district has already sunk substantial financial resources into providing the devices and associated iReady software. They aren’t getting rid of that any time soon. So what to do when they come to the part of their curriculum review cycle when they evaluate whether to get new curriculum or continue with what they have in light of these financial investments aligned to Common Core? Clearly the answer is adopt something not named Common Core, but which really is Common Core.

What is llustrative Math?

Illustrative Math is the brain child of William McCallum, University Distinguished Professor and Head, Department of Mathematics, The University of Arizona & Mathematics Consultant to Achieve Inc. Remember Achieve Inc.? They developed the American Diploma Project from which the Common Core standards were born. I wrote about his view of math in 2014

According to McCallum “Rigor means balancing conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and meaningful applications of mathematics. Here the word rigor is used not in the way that mathematicians use it, to indicate a correct and complete chain of logical reasoning, but in the sense of a rigorous preparation for a sport or profession: one that exercises all the necessary proficiencies in a balanced way.” (Wm. McCallum (lead author of the math standards) (July, 2012). The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. ICME 12, Seoeu, Korea, http://math.arizona.edu/~wmc/Research/2012_07_12_ICME_McCallum.pdf)

He is still pushing his math standards, only now for profit through Illustrative Math. The Gates Foundation funded IM’s work with a $3M grant in 2012. Now it’s just time to cash in and districts like Springfield are lining up.

So what is wrong with adopting IM (via LearnZillion and OUR)?

For one, the state has stipulated, ever since HB1490 was passed in 2014, that no state money budgeted for education may be used to implement Common Core standards. Since Springfield, through the Foundation Formula, receives state dollars, that should tie their hands in terms of adopting curriculum specifically aligned to Common Core.

In addition, the implementation of Common Core standards has achieved none of its goals of improving student performance. Scores have either flat lined or declined steadily for the last 4 years. Dr. Mary Byrne has an excellent analysis of what is happening in Springfield and what has happened with their state scores on standardized tests.

Common Core Math by Any Oth… by on Scribd

Springfield’s math scores are generally on that downward trajectory. The percentage of students in grades 3-4 whose scores were at least Proficient dropped in 2018, even after some monkey business by the state with setting cut scores designed to be friendly to low performing districts. More students are scoring only at the Basic or Below Basic level. The percentage of Springfield students who scored Proficient in math was below the state average in both 2017 and 2018.

Nationally, scores on standardized assessments like the NAEP have been declining since Common Core was implemented around the country. Is Springfield so stuck in the Sunk Cost theorem with their technology that they are planning to double down with CC now? It’s looks like they are.

Dr. Byrne summarizes the situation this way.

“The consistently downward trend of mathematics scores of elementary and high school students on multiple national assessments, including the NAEP and ACT, over time suggests that CCSS philosophy, sequence, and pedagogy have has not improved student performance on tests of mathematics regardless of what the standards are called in various states. The below-state- average mathematics scores of SPS elementary and middle school students on the MAP, despite implementation of CCSS-aligned formative assessment and intervention delivered in online programs, suggests SPS student math performance will not likely improve with the adoption of another CCSS-aligned online math program.”

If you live in Springfield, and have the means, you may want to look into math tutoring in traditional math (like Singapore Math) for your child. The district program isn’t likely help them.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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