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Teaching Core Math Standards Made Easier with Free Tool

“The Navigator will empower more teachers to design their own instruction by letting the standards -- not the textbooks -- guide the process.”

The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust has made a $750,000 grant to support a way to utilize K-8 math textbooks more efficiently. The grant will help implement a free, web-based tool, created by researcher William Schmidt at MSU, to help American educators teach the Common Core State Standards for mathematics.

Through the Textbook Navigator/Journal, K-8 teachers can quickly find which parts of their existing math textbook cover a standard or identify which standards are addressed in specific textbook lessons.

Although the majority of U.S. states have adopted the standards, many teachers still must use outdated textbooks or find other materials to ensure students meet the common set of learning goals at each grade level.

"Higher learning goals for all students are a fundamental ingredient to an upgraded system of public education – but to realize the promise of the Common Core standards, educators need access to curricula that bring them to life in classrooms," said Rachel Leifer, senior program officer of the Helmsley Charitable Trust's Education Program. "The Navigator is a comprehensive, user-friendly tool that helps teachers make the best use of textbooks that may only partially address the requirements of the math standards. We commend Dr. Schmidt for translating his groundbreaking research into a practical resource for teachers, and we are proud to support this tremendous step toward helping educators find the level of rigor and quality needed to prepare students for success in high school, college and beyond."

A team led by William Schmidt, director of the Center for Study of Curriculum at MSU’s College of Education, developed the Navigator based on an in-depth analysis of 34 commonly used math textbook series comprising 185 individual textbooks. They found that no textbook series covers 100 percent of on-grade standards, with the typical textbook skipping at least a quarter of the math topics students are expected to learn.

“We are asking teachers to depend on textbooks that are not well aligned and also vary widely, meaning children with different books may get entirely different, incoherent opportunities to learn important mathematics,” said Schmidt. “The Navigator will empower more teachers to design their own instruction by letting the standards -- not the textbooks -- guide the process.”

The Navigator can help teachers and school district curriculum leaders decide the order in which the textbook lessons are covered (and which lessons to skip), rather than being rigidly tied to the order defined by a textbook. If there are no lessons in a textbook covering a particular standard, the Navigator points to several free, online sources of curriculum materials.

The Navigator fills an important need while writers, editors, and publishers work to adapt K-8 math textbooks to cover more fully the topics and lessons in the adopted Common Core State Standards.

Textbook analysis findings

The need for a tool like Navigator became evident through a study conducted with more than 1,000 teachers in three states.

Schmidt’s team selected textbooks for analysis from a 2011 survey of school districts in states that had already adopted Common Core State Standards. Textbooks were analyzed to identify which, if any, standards were covered in each lesson. The team has also analyzed more recently published textbooks.

“One of the most serious consequences we found is that textbooks contribute in a significant way to inequalities in our educational system,” Schmidt said. “The Navigator can create a bridge for teachers to make better use of what they have, until newer well-aligned textbooks become available.”

Additional key findings

Only half of a typical textbook focuses on math considered appropriate for grade level. Some devote up to two-thirds of the school year to standards for the wrong grade.

On average, the textbooks allocate 62 to 74 percent of class days to grade-appropriate standards. Thus, students are likely to spend eight to 13 weeks on extraneous material.

Newer (post-2011) textbooks cover, on average, a higher percentage of grade-specific standards (82 percent) than older books (64 percent).

The study received support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the GE Foundation.

For more information on making a gift to the College of Education, contact Senior Director of Development Melissa Phillips Lynch at mlynch42@msu.edu or by calling (517) 432-1983.

Author: Alisa Healy

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