Study Finds New Testing for Common Core State Standards Impacts Classroom Practices for Middle School Math Teachers

Teacher Evaluations Also Likely to Determine What is Taught in Math Classrooms, Teachers Say

Students displaying math work on the wallStates across the country have started to implement the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM). But, according to a National Science Foundation-funded study, a large majority of middle school math teachers point to the new high-stakes tests and teacher evaluations associated with the CCSSM as challenges for implementing the new standards. In fact, most teachers reported that the content of these new state assessments and the teacher evaluation systems aligned with the CCSSM will ultimately drive their classroom practices.

These are among other findings released as part of a new survey, conducted by researchers from the University of Rochester, Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, and Washington State University Tri-Cities in April and May 2013, that examines how teachers perceive the new standards, CCSSM-related assessments, and the teacher evaluation process linked to the new standards.

This survey, titled “Middle School Teachers’ Perceptions of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and Related Assessment and Teacher Evaluation Systems,” is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and builds on a previous survey, “Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Middle School Mathematics Teachers’ Perceptions,” conducted in February 2013 and released earlier this summer.

Jeffrey Choppin“This is a challenging time for teachers, given the changes the Common Core Standards represent for most states in terms of the mathematical content, the incorporation of the Common Core Standards in state assessments, and the use of student test scores in teacher evaluations,” says Jeffrey Choppin, associate professor of mathematics education at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, who serves as the study’s principal investigator. “In order to better support and ease the transition for teachers—and their students—as schools continue to adopt and implement the new standards, it’s important that we understand the emerging issues and concerns related to the new standards.”

The survey, which polled 366 middle school mathematics teachers in 42 of the 45 Common Core-adopting states, explored teachers’ perspectives on new state assessments and evaluation systems. More than 90 percent of the respondents reported that the new state assessments will influence both their instructional and assessment practices in the classroom. Nearly two-thirds of the teachers surveyed reported that the new teacher evaluation systems will influence their classroom practices. Furthermore, a large majority, 86 percent, felt that there will be an increased emphasis on student test scores in their teacher evaluations.

In terms of the content of the new state assessments, a strong majority of respondents, 92 percent, perceived that the assessments will be aligned with the CCSSM and 69 percent reported that they expect the assessments will involve more difficult numbers. In all, 84 percent “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that the state assessments will assess each of the eight mathematical practices, some of which include making sense of problems and persevering in solving them, reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others, and modeling with mathematics.

The survey also found that most of the math teachers, 93 percent, reported being familiar with the CCSSM Content Standards, representing a six percent increase from the previous survey conducted two months earlier by the same group of researchers. The slight increase in familiarity with the CCSSM, researchers concluded, is most likely due to the additional exposure teachers had to the new standards. A strong majority of respondents, 84 percent, see the Content Standards as more rigorous than their prior state standards.

The researchers concluded that the impact of the CCSSM on teachers’ instructional and assessment decisions is likely to be felt through the mandated high-stakes assessments, rather than the CCSSM document. While this latest survey confirmed that teachers continue to pay attention to the content and practices articulated in the CCSSM and perceive the new standards as requiring them to teach more conceptually and incorporate more mathematical communication, problem solving, and exploration into their teaching, their attention is greatly influenced by how the CCSSM content will be assessed in the new state assessments.

Once CCSSM-related assessments are implemented, the more challenging and innovative features of CCSSM are at risk of being diminished, the researchers explain in the report. The findings suggest that middle school mathematics teachers may emphasize opportunities for their students to learn the mathematics content and practices articulated in the new standards only if the CCSSM-based assessments reflect a similar focus on concepts, communication, and problem solving.  

The CCSSM were adopted by New York along with 44 other states and the District of Columbia. They were designed to be more rigorous, coherent, and focused than previous versions of state standards. The CCSSM were developed by several state-led national organizations, representing governors and state commissioners of education, and focus on deepening students’ knowledge and ensuring that they become college- and career-ready by the time they graduate from high school. According to the funders and authors, the goal of the CCSSM is to create consistency across the public education landscape and to help the United States remain competitive in a global economy.  

Funded by a four-year, $2.2 million grant through the National Science Foundation’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings, the study’s primary objective is to help school districts implement the new national standards and improve mathematics instruction. The grant funding will help researchers create principles for curriculum developers to design teacher resources for curriculum materials, professional development designers and instructional leaders to help teachers understand and better utilize curriculum materials, and teachers to use curriculum resources and design instruction.

The survey’s report, titled “Middle School Teachers’ Perceptions of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and Related Assessment and Teacher Evaluation Systems,” was issued by the Warner Center for Professional Development and Education Reform and co-authored by Professors Jeffrey Choppin, from the University of Rochester; Jon Davis, from Western Michigan University; Corey Drake, from Michigan State University; and Amy Roth McDuffie, from Washington State University Tri-Cities. 
Editor’s Note: Jeffrey Choppin is available for interviews to discuss the study.

About the Warner School of Education
Founded in 1958, the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education offers master’s and doctoral degree programs in teaching and curriculum, school leadership, higher education, educational policy, counseling, human development, and health professions education. The Warner School of Education offers a new accelerated option for its EdD programs that allows eligible students to earn a doctorate in education in as few as three years part time while holding a professional job in the same field. The Warner School of Education is recognized both regionally and nationally for its tradition of preparing practitioners and researchers to become leaders and agents of change in schools, universities, and community agencies; generating and disseminating research; and actively participating in education reform. 
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Tags: Common Core, Common Core State Standards, Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Jeffrey Choppin, mathematics, mathematics education, research, state assessments, teacher evaluation systems, teacher preparation, teaching and curriculum