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Research: The Critical Link to Informing Practice and the Public—the Time Is Now!

Shaughnessy_52010by NCTM President J. Michael Shaughnessy
NCTM Summing Up, January 2012

When the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) were released in 2010, a joint task force representing NCTM, the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM), the Association of State Supervisors of Mathematics (ASSM), and the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE) was appointed to make recommendations to assist our respective members with the task of implementing and assessing the new standards. One of the most important recommendations made by the joint task force was the following:

Develop and launch a research agenda focused on the CCSS that includes systematic study of the instantiation and implementation of the standards, monitors the impact on instruction and student learning and informs revisions of the CCSS. 

During the past year, a team of experts from Horizon Research, Inc. obtained funding from the National Science Foundation to develop a framework and identify priority areas for the field to conduct research on the implementation, effect, and future revision of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM).

During the development of that framework and research agenda, Horizon gathered input from a large pool of mathematics educators, who reviewed the initial draft of the proposed research priorities and assisted in verifying critical areas for research on the CCSSM. A number of reviewer recommendations and comments were subsequently integrated into the final Horizon report, which was released to the public in November 2011. The report, Priority Research Agenda for Understanding the Influence of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Technical Report, was written by Daniel J. Heck, Iris R. Weiss, and Joan D. Pasley. Click here to read the report.

The report first describes some general studies that should be conducted in relation to CCSSM: (i) case studies that target systemic action taken by states and districts; (ii) relational studies that research the conditions of effectiveness for the implementation of CCSSM; and (iii) experimental studies that investigate the effects of various interventions related to CCSSM. A list of suggested research questions on CCSSM then follows with accompanying discussion. Among the priority research questions in the report are the following:

  • How are mathematics education systems responding to CCSSM?—e.g., What changes are occurring within existing or new K–12 mathematics curriculum materials? What types of state transition plans are emerging? How is collaboration occurring across states on shared implementation and assessment strategies?
  • What is happening for whom (schools, classrooms, and students) as a result of CCSSM, and with what results?—Research studies designed to investigate a large, representative sample of classrooms will be needed to address these priority questions.
  • Are students who have experienced a faithful implementation of CCSSM actually well prepared for college and career?—This has been one of the primary goals stated from the beginning by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, and it was the reason for the development of CCSSM in the first place. Determining whether this goal has been achieved will require the design of longitudinal studies and the creation and maintenance of large databases. 
  • How can CCSSM be improved?—Are the standards “right?” Studies that are designed to measure the validity of the forthcoming student assessments will be needed. Secondary analyses of assessment and achievement data, and studies that are co-conducted by researchers and practitioners who are implementing CCSSM in their classrooms will be critical to identifying standards or wording in standards that might need to be changed or updated. 

Last spring NCTM’s Research Agenda Report, Linking Research and Practice (2010) re-iterated the Council’s longstanding commitment to conducting research that links to classroom practice and that involves mathematics practitioners as partners in research. If there was ever a time in the history of mathematics education for our mathematics education research community to step up to the plate and launch the types of research efforts suggested in the recommendations of the Research Agenda Report, that time is now!

Although the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics may be bringing new opportunities for districts and states to work together in unprecedented ways, they are also bringing new responsibilities, especially to researchers, to craft studies that will objectively document—

  1. what is occurring across states with the implementation of CCSSM;
  2. what students are, or are not, learning vis-à-vis the Common Core implementation and assessment processes;
  3. what types of support, practice, and content enhancements teachers need as they work to implement CCSSM in their schools; and
  4. what types of changes and mid-course corrections are needed in the initial version of the Common Core Standards for Mathematics.

Conducting an objective critique and review of the Common Core Standards for Mathematics is the responsibility of NCTM, its Affiliates, and the mathematics education research community as a whole. We need studies that will document, analyze, review, and critique the various components of CCSSM—the faithfulness of its implementation, the validity and reliability of the forthcoming student assessments, and whether the whole process does indeed better prepare students for college and careers.

Recall the mission of NCTM:

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is a public voice of mathematics education, supporting teachers to ensure equitable mathematics learning of the highest quality for all students through vision, leadership, professional development, and research.

In this era of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, NCTM must take the lead in helping to ensure that the research that is needed to inform teachers, administrators, states, and the public about CCSSM is carried out thoughtfully and that the results and findings are communicated openly and objectively.

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