Manhattan Beach Unified School District

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Mathematics FAQ

MBUSD Common Core Mathematics Frequently Asked Questions


Q: What textbooks and resources are we using?

A: In Grades K-5 teams of teachers have taken the standards for their grade level and aligned them to a variety of resources for teachers to use.  These resources include, but are not limited to: Eureka Math, Engage New York, Georgia Units, word problems, math warm-ups, and math wall cards.  During the 2015-16 school year the MBUSD Math Committee will be going through a K-5 textbook adoption.  When the textbook is selected it will be used as an additional resource and will be added to the list of examples above.  Teachers are responsible for teaching students the state standards, not a textbook cover to cover. 

In Grades 6-12, teachers have taken the new standards and are aligning them to resources such as Mars Tasks, and identified what pages in their textbooks address each given standard.  The MBUSD Math Committee is also seeking to adopt new textbooks at the secondary level that would be used as a resource to teach the standards.  The newly adopted textbook will be used beginning in the 2016-17 school year.


Q: What is the curriculum?

A: The curriculum, or what needs to be taught, are the standards.  The textbook is not the curriculum.  Grade levels and departments have mapped out these essential standards and aligned them to resources to help teach these standards.  Our goal is to create a viable and guaranteed curriculum (Marzano, 2003).  Viable meaning the standards that need to be learned can be taught in the time given. Guaranteed, meaning all teachers will cover the same essential standards and incorporate periodic common assessments; however, this is not lock step, as teachers identify a window of time to teach the essential standards not a “must teach standard ‘x’ on a specific date.” 

The vehicle to teach the standards is Cognitively Guided Instruction (CGI) in grades K-5 and Balanced Mathematics in grades 6-12.  CGI/Balanced Mathematics is based on decades of research in how children learn mathematics; a compilation of studies can be found here.  The “balance” in Balanced Mathematics aims for an equal amount of time to be spent on conceptual understanding, application, and procedural and skill fluency.  The former 1997 California Standards that we have been operating under relied heavily on procedural and skill fluency.


Q: Why are there two sets of standards?

A: The former 1997 California Content Standards were the sole set of standards describing the expectations of what students must learn by course and grade level; however, the California Common Core Standards have identified not only what needs to be learned (California Common Core Standards for Content), but also how mathematics should be learned through a set of eight K-12 standards of productive mathematical practices (California Common Core Standards for Mathematical Practice).  During the 2014-15 school year, MBUSD focused heavily on the eight Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP) as they significantly impact the way we teach mathematics and the way students engage in problem solving.  Towards the end of the 2014-15 year, through the summer of 2015, and now into the 2015-16 school year we are also focusing on the Standards for Content.  This work consists of creating curriculum maps for grade levels and courses that contain the new standards and what resources teachers can use with students.


Q: What is the plan for implementation?

A: The MBUSD Math Committee created a three-year plan that was presented to the MBUSD Board of Trustees in March of 2015.  The first focus area was on pedagogy, or the SMPs, where teachers engage in a variety of professional development structures in how students learn mathematics.  The focus on pedagogy is a constant throughout the three-year plan as it is the most significant change in what the standards demand.  Also contained in the plan are timelines for adopting new textbooks (2015-16), mapping curriculum (2015 and beyond), and fostering teacher leadership.


Q: What are other districts doing?

A: Other districts are further along then MBUSD on this process, and that is intentional.  When making the shifts to Common Core, we focused first on English Language Arts and just began the transition to mathematics during the 2014-15 school year.  Here you can see the MBUSD curriculum implementation timeline.  Almost every district in the surrounding area, as well as comparable districts, has engaged teachers in CGI/Balanced Mathematics professional development.  Some districts have adopted textbooks, such as Culver City, some plan on adopting this year, such as MBUSD and Hermosa, and there are others who didn’t adopt last year and don’t plan to this year, such as La Cañada.  The common focus across districts has been on professional development, with almost all engaging in CGI/Balanced Mathematics.


Q: How are we measuring implementation?

A: We are measuring implementation both qualitatively and quantitatively.  UCLA conducted an Observation Report Cycle in both the beginning and end of the 2014-15 school year.  This mixed methods report of grades 6-12 math classrooms examined quantitative features such as wait time, subgroup representation in math classrooms, frequency of student to student interaction and qualitative data such as the types of activities teachers engaged students in and the types of questions asked.  For each cycle, fall and spring, every math teacher was observed (unannounced) by a UCLA team (staff not working with MBUSD) for two 10-20 minute sections of a lesson.  Data revealed there was minimal change from the beginning of the 2014-15 year to the end of the year; however, qualitatively through principal observations and administrative team observations there was more change at the elementary level towards the shifts. 

When we step back and look at this from a global perspective, the US ranked lower than nine other countries on the Trends in Mathematical and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2011.  TIMSS data have been influential in the development of the Common Core as other countries have shared that they incorporate the findings of US university studies into their teaching of mathematics; the typical math classroom in the US does not completely align with researched best practices in the teaching of mathematics. 


Q: What will assessments look like?

A: Assessments are moving away from the scantron/multiple choice options that we have seen for decades.  Many of you may have seen the parody “I Choose C,” that exaggerates this multiple-choice phenomenon, thus de-emphasizing true critical thinking.  The new assessments, both Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the formative assessments teachers have begun and will continue creating, aim to address the four Depth of Knowledge Levels (note: there are Depth of Knowledge matrices for both Math/Science and English Language Arts).  Due to the utilization of computers, rather than students filling out a scantron, assessments have become more sophisticated in that the SBAC is computer adaptive and can engage students in a wider variance of question types aimed to uncover higher levels of rigor and critical thinking.  Here is a link to the SBAC question types.


Q: What did the Smarter Balanced/Common Core assessment results tell us?

A: The new assessment confirmed that our focus on English Language Arts yielded strong student achievement at all levels (elementary, middle, and high) particularly in the area of writing, where much attention in professional development has been focused in recent years. It also confirmed that our students perform better on questions similar to the 1997 math standards (procedural and skill fluency) and that application and conceptual understanding are next steps (this has been the focus of our professional development).  It also told us that there is a decline in student math achievement beginning in 6th grade and continuing through grade 11.  These lower levels of math achievement were also seen in the former California Standards test in grades 6-8.  Finally, these scores also told us that we have significant achievement gaps for certain subgroups of students. 

A difference we have seen between other high performing districts and MBUSD is that there was a similar percentage of students who scored “meets or exceeds standard” in English Language Arts and Mathematics in all grade levels.  We observed that trend in MBUSD’s elementary scores, however the gap becomes apparent in middle and high school.  This too, was anticipated as we did not begin our focus on mathematics until 2014-15, while majority of districts began this work several years earlier.  Overall, the data reveal the success of our work in English Language Arts and the need to continue focusing on application and conceptual understanding in mathematics, as well as narrowing our achievement gaps.


Q: What will math homework look like?

A: Overall, homework will consist of fewer problems, but examined at a deeper level through multiple solutions or “proving” the answer through another solution, which means homework assignments like page 67 odd should go away with time.  Research has found that students build greater connections and understanding when they solve several problems in a couple different ways than a sheet of problems solving them all the same way.  Students should not be marked down for solving a problem a different way than what was discussed in class as we know that there are a variety of ways to solve equations. 


Q: How can help my student with math?

A: The best way to help is to avoid telling him/her how to solve a problem.  This is very different than what we are inclined to do; however, the Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMP) aim to develop your student as a problem solver.   Traits of being a problem solver are persistence, modeling with mathematics, applying strategies already known to novel situations, and developing plans to approach problems.  It is recommended that parents embrace this notion of productive struggle through the use of questioning.  Here is a great resource to use when questioning your student at home.  Note, the term is productive struggle, not overt frustration.  It is okay to break down a problem to further help your child, but try and steer clear of any “tricks” we learned as students as they typically don’t teach the math behind the math.  The overall goal is to get students to the algorithm; however, to build conceptual understanding students need to make their own connections to prior knowledge, multiple concepts, and strategies for problem solving.  Most likely these initial strategies will not look like the traditional algorithm, but know the goal is to move them there with a solid conceptual foundation.  Here is a video of Phil Daro, one of the contributors to the Common Core, speaking about math tricks.


Q: How does CGI/Balanced Mathematics prepare students for college and career?

A: How often do you find yourself solving a single problem type?  For most people, rarely.  Problems in college and career do not fit neatly into a box, but rather consist of complex situations where we must persevere and draw from a variety of problem solving skills.  The new standards take into account that our world is changing, that the future jobs of our students may not even exist, but having rich toolbox of problem solving strategies, combined with grit, will be of great advantage.  Here is a compilation of studies in the area of CGI mathematics.

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