"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Common Core Math and Teaching to the PISA Test

Student Achievement Partners is the outfit headed by David Coleman that Achieve, Inc. and Bill Gates hired to write the Common Core corporate standards. Along with his two partners, Susan Pimentel and Jason Zimba, SAP raked in $3,942,566 in tax exempt money during 2011, alone (see 990 here). Coleman has had a number of other pursuits, including helping to found Michelle Rhee's Students First, and more recently being elevated to the top spot at ETS.

Zimba, on the other hand, remains the guiding math light for the SAPs, whose staff has grown from 3 to 27.  On December 13, SAP issued the following press release announcing SAP's recommendations  for test prepping America's children to take the PISA test. In so doing, SAP tries to make the case that Common Core will make America competitive in the international test taking derbies.

It would appear that this is an all in bet on PISA results, if Gates and SAP can keep the Common Core out of the ditch for the next three years. That's a big if!

Notice that in the clip from the press release below, the focus is not on standards, not on teaching, not on curriculum – it is on the test. All the focus is on the test, on the assessment. Except for number three, which would have all teachers teaching math along with the math teachers:

. . . . Zimba argues that the Common Core State Standards offer a way to improve PISA scores. “PISA is a test of mathematical modeling, and the Common Core includes a greater emphasis on modeling in high school,” Zimba said. Also essential is the Common Core’s strong focus on arithmetic in the elementary grades. “In math, fundamentals matter. Students can’t apply skills they don’t have,” Zimba said.
Zimba made three recommendations for improving students’ college and career readiness in mathematics:
  1. Focus assessment strongly on arithmetic in grades K-5. “Without the basics firmly in place, students can’t proceed to mathematical literacy or advanced STEM fields,” Zimba said.
  2. Include richer applications in high school assessments. For example, assessments can mimic PISA by including multi-item sets that investigate a given scenario. “As PISA itself shows, this doesn’t require lengthy tasks or hand scoring,” Zimba noted. “However, both would be helpful where there is willingness to pay for them.”
  3. Finally, “Students in grades 6 through 12 should be using mathematics systematically across the curriculum,” Zimba said. “I analyzed many PISA items that would be just as much at home in a science or health classroom as in a math classroom—if not more at home. College and career readiness is an important and challenging goal, and we can’t keep asking the math teachers to do it all. We need all hands on deck.”

If you are teaching anything but math or programming in schools, I would suggest you man the life boats, while you are at it.


  1. Attended a training on Singapore math by a Singaporean doctor of Ed. Talked about what Singapore has done for the past few decades that brought them to their high scores now. He said that what they did to change was move away from an emphasis on computation and memorization of rote procedures to an approach based on western learning theories, such as Vygotsky, and others, about social learning and conceptual understanding. He insists that the common core promotes this kind of teaching about math. Would be nice if it's so. But it seems that this guy IS promoting the kind of math learning that Singapore moved away from decades ago. Which is bad news. I'm going with Singapore. It's very kid-friendly. How great would it be to actually teach in a way that is based on solid learning theory and not to the test? The problem with CC is that people read into it what they want. There's some good in it, but what's going to destroy any good that may come of it , is the stakes, the testing,

  2. In 2012 Student Achievement Partners has received $18 million from the General Electric Foundation "to assist states nationwide in implementing the Common Core State Standards" and $4,042,920 from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation "to support teachers nationwide in understanding and implementing the Common Core State Standards"--plus another $2,490,430 "to grow capacity to support teachers and to strengthen operations."

  3. Yes! I think the sort of math discovering that Singapore moved far from decades back. Which is awful news. I'm running with Singapore. It's extremely kid-accommodating. How incredible might it be to really instruct in a manner that is focused around strong taking in principle and not to the test?. I would like to say Thanks for sharing it.
    6th Grade Math Practice