SHERIDAN — Regardless of the controversy surrounding Common Core State Standards, 43 states have adopted CCSS as part of their required guidelines for education. While some states have modified the original standards, Wyoming’s is verbatim.
With Common Core’s incorporation into education across the country since 2009, manufacturers started labeling textbooks as aligning with the new standards. This spring, EdReports — a nonprofit dedicated to improving kindergarten through 12th-grade education — reviewed more than 80 math textbooks for grades kindergarten through eight. Less than 15 books aligned to CCSS, with more than half of them coming from one company: Eureka Math.
The process of review was completed by a team of 46 teachers and instructional, school or district leaders and educators. The average teaching experience between the team was 15 years. All but two reviewers were affiliated with national education or math associations.
In Sheridan County, two of the three districts use structured texts throughout the math programs. Sheridan County School District 2 uses The University of Chicago’s “Everyday Mathematics” for grades kindergarten through five and Big Ideas Learning’s “Big Ideas” for grades six through 12.
EdReport gave “Big Ideas” a negative review across the board for grades 6-8, saying, “The materials devote the majority of class time to the major work for grade 8, but not for grades 6 and 7. The materials do not consistently give students of varying abilities extensive work with grade level problems.”
Additionally, the report criticized the text for not creating connections between lessons.
With new materials being expensive, an adoption cycle for curriculum comes around just every seven years for SCSD2. The district has spent the past two years reviewing math materials. Having recently narrowed options down to just two textbooks and programs, teachers piloted the materials before deciding on “Big Ideas.”
Although Sheridan Junior High School Principal Mitch Craft is aware of various rankings for math texts, he said he is not concerned with the latest study from EdReports.
With the amount of time SCSD2 teachers spent reviewing the text, Craft said he’s confident in the materials selected.
Director of Elementary Education Scott Stults backed this up. Since approximately 1996, the elementary schools have used the University of Chicago’s “Everyday Mathematics,” published by Hill McGraw. Currently they’re using the 2012 version but teachers have been piloting the 2015 books.
Although the district takes studies, such as the EdReport’s, into consideration, ultimately they trust the decision to their teachers.
“We feel like, yes, we’re providing quality education and math instruction for our students here,” Stults said. “At the same time we always look and reflect to see how we can do things better; how can we do things better to help more students be successful and continue to improve our kids’ ability to [think critically] and problem solve.”
Not only do staff look to see how text aligns to CCSS, but how well it preps students for Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students testing.
When sections of the text don’t align with CCSS, SCSD2 teachers fill in those gaps with outside materials and their own knowledge.
At Sheridan County School District 3, students also use “Everyday Mathematics” for grades kindergarten through five and Pearson’s math books for junior high and high school students.
Pearson’s materials for sixth, seventh and eighth grade are ranked poorly by EdReports too, citing a lack of focus on major topics. However they all partially meet expectations for coherence — the rubric for how well the text makes connections throughout.
Superintendent Charles Auzqui said this is a supplement to their overall math curriculum.
While SCSD2 and SCSD3 have structured their math education through pre-existing programs, Sheridan County School District 1 moved away from that in 2009.
SCSD1 schools rely on various materials pulled in by their teachers instead of one, all encompassing program. This was decided, Curriculum Director Sara McGinnis said, because the district wanted to give teachers more control over what they were teaching.
Although they must comply to Wyoming Content and Performance Standards (the adopted CCSS), this allows for local control.
“We created a curriculum that is outcome based,” McGinnis said.
This is done by trial and error. SCSD1 educators develop their program looking at CCSS, ACT benchmarks, PAWS and Measures of Academic Progress testing.
The following year the curriculum is implemented and teachers make modifications based on real-life application. Next, they look at student performance based on assessments to see whether the outcomes and materials are aligning.
This method “alleviates stress” on the teachers, McGinnis said.
Although ideally textbooks should align to the CCSS, McGinnis doesn’t believe the books offer enough customization.
“The state standards are to be used as a guideline,” she said, adding that pre-existing programs don’t “give you the local control to align to this standard. You’re buying what someone else thinks is the best thing to teach and know and not what we think is the best to teach.”
Basing success off of Wyoming’s standardized test, PAWS, what SCSD1 is doing doesn’t seem to be negatively affecting scores. Although performance wasn’t noticeably improved from last year, SCSD1 aligned with Wyoming schools across the state.
While SCSD3 struggled in some areas, they too were not off from state averages.
SCSD2, however, outperformed not only the two other districts, but once again had the highest overall scores in the state.