Embracing and Implementing New K-12 Standards in English, Mathematics and Science

ASCCC Vice President
Foothill College

In the last Rostrum, we introduced the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics and English Language Arts, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), including proposed definitions of college-content readiness in those subjects. That article discussed the development process and current implementation timeline for California. These new national standards for K-12 education are promising and ambitious, and they will have significant impacts on teaching and learning not only in K-12 but also in higher education classrooms. The goal for both CCSS and NGSS is to prepare students for college and/or career. Community College faculty would be genuinely excited if students came to us truly prepared for college-level work, with no need for remediation.

The new standards are intended to fully prepare high school graduates for college and career through increased emphasis on interdisciplinary application of knowledge, and community college faculty can already begin to prepare for this impending paradigm shift. Our future students will not only have content knowledge but also the ability to apply that knowledge across disciplines and in a variety of problem-solving situations. Students with these sorts of abilities will be seeking and expecting similar learning experiences where they can use the skills learned in high school. It will take some time before students graduating from high school have been immersed in the new standards, curriculum, and testing modes, but any exposure to this potentially improved experience in high school will mean that community college students will be different in the future. Faculty will want to begin thinking about how our curriculum could change based on a different student experience in high school.

One area in which community colleges can have a significant positive impact and where our curriculum is in many cases already under modification is in teacher preparation. The CCSS were developed in a regressive manner, beginning by defining the standards that a student should meet upon completing high school and going all the way back to the earliest grades and even kindergarten. As students move to each new grade, the rigor and complexity builds upon the standards the student was expected to meet in earlier years. Thus, proficiency by the end of high school hinges on the ability of teachers at the earliest grade levels to implement the new standards successfully. Community college faculty therefore have a great opportunity to affect change by creating excellent teacher prep programs and curricula. Many California community colleges (CCCs) already offer associate degrees designed to prepare students for transfer to a bachelor's degree program in teacher education, and notably, a Transfer Model Curriculum (TMC) has been developed for Elementary Education. Community college faculty who teach courses included in this TMC should certainly be familiar with the standards themselves. Community colleges have a role to play in helping future teachers navigate the new standards and develop curriculum and pedagogical practices consistent with the emphasis on application and interdisciplinary relationships. Our teacher education programs can benefit from partnering with CSU faculty to critically re-examine the individual descriptors for the required core courses with an eye towards ensuring they are consistent with the focus on practice and application rather than predominantly on content mastery. Future teachers are less likely to embrace and engage in the paradigm shift if we are not modeling it ourselves.

Shifting towards a more interdisciplinary, applied pedagogy will not only benefit faculty involved in elementary and secondary teacher prep, however. As schools implement the CCSS and NGSS, the shift will benefit community college students, faculty, and institutions if we reconsider the more traditional content delivery focus, no matter which discipline we teach. Intentionally designed to coordinate with each other, all three sets of standards—Mathematics, English Language Arts, and Next Generation Science— emphasize deeper understanding, application of content, and the ability to transfer knowledge across disciplines. Although many community college faculty have long embraced these goals in theory, the way we currently write and deliver curriculum does not always translate them into practice. Indeed, many of us became academics because we excelled in our K-12 environments that emphasized factual knowledge. Because teachers usually teach the way they were taught, higher education faculty commonly have a strong central focus on content and much less attention to application and integration with other disciplines. When students who have successfully met the new CCSS and NGSS begin to graduate from high school and enroll in our college courses, though, they will surely vote with their feet if we offer them no more than the traditional delivery of content with little else.

Colleges need to increase local faculty awareness of the CCSS and NGSS and facilitate discussions about how the new standards align with our expectations for entering freshmen. The UCs and CSUs are already revising their entrance course guidelines (a.k.a. "a-g requirements”) to better align with the CCSS. This situation presents a golden opportunity to collaborate with our K-12 partners as they revise their math, English, and science curriculum to meet the new standards. We must remember that the CCSS and NGSS are only standards and that the actual curriculum is still the purview of local school districts. As K-12 schools begin implementation of the new standards, tremendous effort will be spent on building new curriculum to meet them. If we collaborate now, we can achieve a seamless continuum of curriculum from high school to introductory-level college coursework. One such example is the English Reading and Writing Curriculum developed by CSU in conjunction with the Early Assessment Program (EAP) and now being implemented in 12th grade classes around the state. Other colleges are in the process of developing 12th grade mathematics curricular options together with high school math teachers.

California community college faculty should also participate in conversations about how we can leverage the high school assessments to better inform our college placement policies. We already know that the assessments from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) system will take the place of the assessment portion of the current Early Assessment Program used by CSUs. Although the new assessments are not placement tests, the CSUs have agreed that, depending on student performance on SBAC and 12th grade coursework, students may be exempted from remedial coursework at the CSU. Many CCCs also already accept EAP results as a means to exempt students from remedial coursework, and SBAC will become EAP 2.0.

Colleges can also take a new look at the degrees they offer to ensure that these degrees reflect the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards’ emphasis on building coherently over the course of a student’s education. Rather than building our degrees as selections of courses in distinct silos, we can strive to make more obvious connections across our curriculum and offer ongoing opportunities for students to deepen their understanding as they progress through their coursework. In doing so, we reinforce the overriding outcomes and meaning that serve as the foundation for our degrees.

The new K-12 standards are a promising impetus for change, and, as community college faculty, we should take maximum advantage of our opportunity to collaborate with our K-12 partners to facilitate truly meaningful change in education.