[Skip Fennell] Math Specialists Get Ready Now: Common Core Assessments Are Coming

Skip Fennell, Jon Wray, and Beth Kobett (who was absent for this presentation) are the leads on the Elementary Mathematics Specialists & Teacher Leaders Project. As the name implies, the focus here is on supporting math specialists, such as district-level curriculum directors, instructional coaches, and anyone who is in a position to support mathematics teachers.

For this presentation, Fennell and Wray looked at the upcoming Common Core assessments, PARCC and Smarter Balanced (SB), and suggested ways math specialists can help teachers prepare for the tests.


The challenge Fennell and Wray presented was essentially to focus on the upcoming assessments and respect the influence they will have on curriculum and instruction, without focusing too narrowly on the assessments and cause instruction and learning to suffer. This means, for example, not turning classroom practice into test prep, and using sample items from both PARCC and SB wisely.

Fennell and Wray used the concept of assessment literacy to describe the ability for teachers and specialists to understand a testing program. Many teachers have no formal training in assessment, so math specialists must be able to help them build their assessment literacy. Part of this is simply becoming more familiar with the schedules and formats of the upcoming PARCC and SB assessments. Both consortia offer more than just an end-of-year test, and teachers are going to need to help students interpret new kinds of technology-enabled assessment tasks.


Fennell sees great potential in the CCSSM, but said, “If the Common Core becomes political, it’s dead.” Teachers and specialists need to work with the standards in ways that doesn’t reduce them to a checklist of vaguely connected ideas. Using a number of items and task prototypes, Fennell and Wray showed examples of sample items from PARCC and SB and showed the many ways these could be richly used in lessons if the teacher provides the right support and instruction. “There are a lot of ways sample items can be used as instructional gems,” said Fennell. A list of potential questions and strategies for various tasks can be found in their slides.

They wrapped their presentation up by urging us to better understand the role of formative assessment around these sample tasks. Also, they encouraged us to use materials from both PARCC and SBAC, regardless of the test your state has adopted. They linked us to more task resources, including:


Raymond Johnson is a graduate student at CU-Boulder. He blogs at MathEd.net and tweets @MathEdNet.

8 thoughts on “[Skip Fennell] Math Specialists Get Ready Now: Common Core Assessments Are Coming

  1. Jenny Hatch says:

    Common core proponents are yelling they are just offering standards to school boards and parents, not curriculum.

    When the big progressive corporate powers that be bought out all of the Independent Math Curriculum Companies, they made certain to dumb them all down knowing that when curriculum committees went looking for a “world class” Math book, it really did not matter which one was chosen, because they all stunk.

    Heads they win, Tails we lose…Suckas!

    Here is what they did to Saxon Math:


  2. Bowen Kerins says:

    Working for an Independent Math Curriculum Company, I can assure you that we have not all been bought out, nor have we been dumbed down. Have a look sometime… uh… suckas?


    Your claim that “all serious Mathematicians agree, the original SAXON Math curriculum, especially the second edition, has no equal, and is the best in the marketplace” is far from accurate.

  3. Jenny Hatch says:

    Hey Bowen,

    Does your excellent, world class, bar none the best on the planet Math Curriculum have an accompanying “Remedial” program tied to it?

    So that when the younguns’ use your materials approximately 33 1/2 % of the children need a Math Specialist and “Special” curriculum?


    The thing is all of you specialists need to understand that a group of people are very much aware of the tactics beings used to dumb down American Children and we are not going to sit quietly down and just let this monstrosity percolate in the schools without trying to expose the frauds.

    You need to “Simma Down”, taka a chill pill, and decide if you want to be a part of the problem or of the solution…


    Jenny Hatch
    Homeschooling Mom and General Rabble Rouser about #CommonCore

  4. Bowen Kerins says:

    I don’t see myself as a specialist, I see myself as a former high school teacher who started writing books because I thought we could make something better than what existed. (That appears to be the same biography as Mr. Saxon.)

    Today I spent the entire day working with math teachers in Lawrence, MA as they begin implementing a schoolwide curriculum at their high school for the first time in many years, and I am proud that they will be using our program, CME Project. We have previously shown success (in student achievement, efficacy, in standardized testing) in many other cities. CME Project is written by teachers with over 100 years of combined classroom experience, funded by the National Science Foundation, and field-tested for five years before publishing. Some of the work in CME Project was incorporated into the Common Core State Standards, particularly the Standards for Mathematical Practice intended to highlight eight deep goals of K-12 mathematics, such as persistent problem-solving, using precise language, and generalizing from repeated reasoning.

    Our materials are built with a low-threshold, high-ceiling approach so that all … uhh, younguns’? … can learn and succeed. Our curriculum has very high standards, and students rise to meet those standards. Students learn math by working on math problems — good problems, connected to one another, with both short-term and long-term goals.

    Our program comes with support for students who enter our curriculum below grade level, while continuing to ask those students to take on work at level. We have consistently found that students can and will take on challenging mathematical tasks if they are given the opportunity to work on them, gaining self-efficacy and perseverance through work.

    None of this happens without high-quality teachers doing their work. I will always be grateful for the great work of these professionals. It’s an honor to work with teachers and students around the country, and a privilege to see our work succeeding in measurable ways.

    However, it may instead be true that I am destroying America and am a complete fraud who needs to simmer down. I suggest you read through our curriculum, talk to teachers who use it, and get a sense of what we wrote and why we wrote it. The chance of this happening may be less than “approximately 33 1/2%” — seriously, why didn’t you just say “approximately one-third” — but I’m always glad to defend our work. Thanks for reading!

  5. Jenny Hatch says:


    Thanks for explaining what you do.

    I appreciate the overview mostly because Pearson has been fingered as the company with the most at stake in the Common Core rollout.

    As a parent my biggest issue with the reading and math curriculums is the recidivism of the various companies.

    And really, who can blame them with all that lovely money flowing in. Taxpayer money mostly.

    My own research and frankly, national test scores, have proven year after year after year that nothing has changed, children are still being taught with materials DESIGNED to ensure that ONE THIRD of them will need remediation in math and reading.

    With so many careers on the line and so much cash to be pumped into the glory hole of the cash cow that is American Education, WHO has the will to reform this glutonous system???

    I think of the curriculum companies the same way I think of the Pharma companies who run Medicine.

    When the business model DEPENDS on a high percentage of sickness and educational failure…well, I just do NOT believe Taxpayers should be funding this madness.

    If we had a truly competitive private sector in education and medicine, with no taxpayer slush fund, everyone would be amazed to watch how quickly these sick systems of education and medicine reformed themselves.

    But when every Johnnie and Susie has ten grand tucked away in their backpack every year to be doled out to whoever is smart enough to GO FOR THE GOLD, and when Johnnie and Susie have twenty grand per year if someone can just manage to get them labeled reading or math challenged.

    Well, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or even a Math specialist, (sorry, teacher) to crunch them numbers…

    Happy Trails!

    Jenny Hatch

  6. Pingback: Uncommon Lore: The Original Saxon Math Curriculum. MATH, a firm foundation to build a homeschool on | THE NATURAL FAMILY BLOG, an online journal written by Jenny Hatch

  7. Pingback: More #CommonCore Math Madness, we have to #StopCommonCore | THE NATURAL FAMILY BLOG, an online journal written by Jenny Hatch

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