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Alabama State Board Makes Changes to Common Core. Or Does It?

The Alabama State Board of Education has approved changes to the Common Core State Standards. The state board voted 5-2 to alter the standards on Jan. 17, according to a statement released by the state education department.

First, one announced "change" wasn't actually a change at all, but rather a deletion of a suggested reading list accompanying the English/language arts standards that has been controversial for some time. Florida and Georgia are two states that have tossed aside this list of reading exemplars (Appendix B to the ELA standards) after some pushback about some of the books on the list. 

So what are the other supposed revisions to the standards? One is in ELA, where "standards that require repetition across grades for expanded application were added to the narrative," according to the release. What does that mean? When I chatted with the Alabama department's Cindy Freeman (the state's coordinator for implementing the standards) about what that means, she said this simply means that for standards that don't just occur in one grade level, the state will clarify this for teachers. This includes things like grammar and punctuation, she said. So again, not really an alteration to the common core, just a further explanation for teachers about how they're supposed to work.

What about in math? Freeman said that the state board decided Jan. 17 to assign some math concepts to Alabama schools' specific topical courses, something she noted common core doesn't explicitly do. For example, she said that the study of matrices was moved from Algebra II to precalculus by the state board, after consulting with both teachers and curriculum coordinators who have worked with the standards.

Back in 2010 when the board first adopted the common core, she noted, the state did add on some standards of their own that she said would work best in the state's schools. But Freeman did say, "K-8 is the common core. We did not add any Alabama content there." (Officially, the state calls them the Alabama College and Career Ready Standards.)

I asked Freeman if anyone from the Council of Chief State School Officers or the National Governors Association (the two groups that oversaw the common core's development) or any other organization had contacted the department with concerns about the changes the state board just approved. She said no.

"We didn't have to ask anybody if we could do this," Freeman said.

These moves by the state board were at the center of a testy exchange before the vote between state Superintendent Tommy Bice and a board member, Stephanie Bell, who's been critical of the standards, as reporter Evan Belanger wrote. Remember, late last year Alabama rescinded a previous memorandum the state had regarding the standards' development (the move didn't impact the state's actual adoption of the standards), and in 2013 there was also a notable push among some in the state legislature to drop the common core. 

Earlier this month, my colleague Catherine Gewertz over at Curriculum Matters wrote about changes the Florida state board is considering to how the standards will work in that state. 

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