Tuesday, November 15, 2011

PARCC Model Content Frameworks - A Baby Step with a Big Footprint

Last week the assessment consortium PARCC released its final PARCC Model Content Frameworks, "as a bridge between the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC assessments."   I see this as a baby step toward more consistently/equitably applying best practices (or at least better practices) for the benefit of 100% of learners.  By "baby step" I don't mean to imply that the effort was small, just that it is a small part of many other things that must happen to "approach 100%."

The frameworks emphasize connections between concept and practice.  It is encouraging to see the progress in moving learning standards beyond thinking just about outcomes (that might be implemented as teaching "rote" methods for application of knowledge to "known" problems). The PARCC frameworks build on the direction of the CCSS that recognizes college and career readiness needs to be about equipping students/citizens to solve problems in the future that may not exist today.  One way to do this is to develop students' abilities to apply knowledge using multiple strategies based on deep understanding of concepts.  The following example is from the Mathematics Frameworks at the 3rd grade level:
"Students learn and use strategies for finding products and quotients that are based on the properties of operations; for example, to find 4 x 7, they may recognize that 7 = 5 + 2 and compute 4 x 5 + 4 x 2. This is an example of seeing and making use of structure (MP.7). Such reasoning processes amount to brief arguments that students may construct and critique (MP.3)."
The frameworks also address competency-based pathways, i.e. how mastery of one competency becomes the foundation for learning other competencies.  I don't think the frameworks represent a breakthrough in and of themselves.  The work builds on the Common Core State Standards, the prior work of organizations like NCTM, numerous cognitive/learning science discoveries that are too slowly impacting practice, and on strengths within existing state standards.  However, with the scale of the assessment consortium these frameworks could have a big impact.  The adoption of PARCC assessments could potentially drive equitable adoption of more coherent teaching and learning practices for 25 million students, guided by the frameworks. This is not a leap forward for optimized student learning, but it is a baby step in the right direction...with a big footprint.

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