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Getting to the ‘Core’ of education

Editor’s note: This is the first in a multi-part series about the new Common Core State Standards.

In June 2010, Illinois adopted a revised set of learning standards known as the Common Core State Standards, which were developed when states banded together to map out grade-by-grade guidelines.

The new standards are part of a trend toward national standards, meaning students in Alabama could be required to master the same material as their counterparts in Wyoming. In addition to Illinois, the standards have been adopted by every state except Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia and Alaska.

Illinois is currently in the transition process, and the new assessment system will be in place for the 2014-15 school year.

As part of the transition process, local school are experiencing several changes, including curriculum changes.

On Monday, Dennis Thompson, interim superintendent of the Bureau Valley School District, said his district will begin implementing a new integrated math program at the high school level next year.

Thompson said the change is required to get in sync with the Common Core standards.

Like most districts, Bureau Valley currently follows the traditional math sequence of algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus.

However, Common Core standards will require students to understand the application side of math.

“For example, an algebra problem might require some geometry skills to solve it,” Thompson said. “That is what more integrated math is trying to do.”

Thompson said various math subjects such as algebra and trigonometry aren’t unique, but they have been taught separately for convenience.

“This integrated math will combine all those elements at the same level,” he said.

For example, integrated Math I, which will begin next year, will include elements of fundamental algebra, geometry and trigonometry.

Thompson said the Common Core concept calls for students to be exposed earlier to geometry concepts.

“They need to get the higher order thinking skills going,” he said.

Algebra class will become integrated and disappear as a separate class, and eventually there will be integrated Math II and Math III classes. Thompson said there is the possibility of offering a Math IV class in areas such as statistics or advanced calculus.

Thompson said there is a 60/40 debate on integrated math classes. He said 60 percent of educators think integrated math will be the “next best thing since sliced bread.”
The other 40 percent, which includes Thompson, doesn’t know if it will be better. He said integrated math will take more time than teaching a definite concept.

There is also some uncertainty about the integrated classes themselves. Thompson said students of different levels will be in the class, but there actually could be two different classes offered. It’s unsure whether that would be a remedial class with the rest of the students in a regular class; or an advanced class, with the rest of the students in the regular class.

“It’s all a gray area,” Thompson said.

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