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James Milgram’s dishonest critique of the Common Core math standards


Most critiques of the Common Core don’t hold up to scrutiny. Dr. James Milgram’s critiques never do.  His criticism of the math standards is the basis for most of the rest of the math criticism you hear, but is fundamentally dishonest.

Milgram uses a willful misreading of the Common Core standards to say that California’s pre-Common Core standards for kindergarten math were better.  He claims that, in the Common Core standards, numbers are “nothing more than oral and reading vocabulary,” while the California standards pushed deep into the meaning of numbers.  Actually, the two standards are very similar – both good at guiding teachers to engender a deep sense of the real meaning of numbers – but the Common Core standards are an important advance, as this great article describes.

And, since the California standards were actually so similar to the Common Core standards, Milgram manages to undercut claims that the Common Core math standards are not “developmentally appropriate” for kindergarteners  – a claim definitively put to rest by New Hampshire kindergarten teachers here.

The details

Common Core opponents frequently refer to James Milgram’s critique of the math standards to support their assertion that the standards are not rigorous enough – don’t prepare students for algebra in the 8th grade, etc. – even while complaining that the kindergarten math standards are too hard, “developmentally inappropriate.”


Sanborn Regional teachers make the Common Core fun for their kindergarten students

We hear concerns about whether the Common Core is developmentally appropriate in the early grades, but the New Hampshire teachers I talk to don’t share that concern.

On my recent visit to the Sanborn Regional School District in Kingston and Newton, the passion for their teaching and their commitment to making the new standards work for their students were clear. (more…)

Big changes for Mississippi kindergarten students: the new Common Core standards seem to be working – Hechinger Report

Maybe Mississippi is a good test of whether the new Common Core standards are “developmentally appropriate” for students from kindergarten through the second grade.  Mississippi’s standards and education have been weak and the new standards represent significantly higher expectations for both teachers and students.

They are two years down the road implementing the Common Core in grades K-2 and the balanced and reliable Hechinger Report just ran a story by Jackie Mader on how it’s going.  Here’s an excerpt (highlights added): (more…)

Are the Common Core math standards “developmentally appropriate” for Kindergarteners? It depends, as always, on who’s teaching.

Opponents say that the Common Core standards, especially the math standards, are not developmentally appropriate for Kindergarteners.

But many New Hampshire Kindergarten and early grade teachers are using the math standards successfully.  When I ask, they say that Kindergarteners can definitely achieve the goals set out in the standards, under the right conditions.  One condition is that the child is prepared – meaning that she’s attended high quality pre-K or her parents have provided a rich environment full of words and numbers.

The second requirement is that she must have access to full day kindergarten.  We know that frequently is not the case, particularly for low income students.  But it appears that, at least partly, it’s about preparation, not something inherent in a five year-old’s stage of development.  So a state’s early childhood development policies are the issue, not really the Common Core or any other standard.

“But,” many say, “5 year olds need to play and discover together.  They need social and emotional development, not academic instruction.”  This is not really a Common Core issue either.  It is a long-running debate that predates the Common Core and will probably go on for a long time.  Some schools, including many Montessori and Waldorf schools, are better at combining play and learning than others.  And some teachers are.  So there’s real pedagogy involved.  But it doesn’t appear to be an issue of what a 5 year-old is developmentally prepared to do.


Diane Johnson, teaching a combined first and second grade, says the Common Core “is less and more, all at the same time”

Diane Johnson spoke about her Common Core experience at a town hall meeting held on October 11, 2013 at the NEA-NH professional development day at Bow High School.


I’ve been working with the Common Core for  a couple of years now and the thing that I’m finding with my first and second grade kids is it’s less and more, all at the same time…..  And they’re rising to the occasion.  They’re thinking harder about fewer things and they are gaining a broader perspective, number one.  …The standards are higher than they were but we’re doing fewer things.


Here’s how a Manchester fourth grade teacher has made the new standards work for her

singing class outsideDebbie Villiard, a fourth grade teacher passionately dedicated to the kids at Manchester’s Northwest Elementary School, has had great success with the new standards in her classroom.

Here’s what she told me a couple of weeks ago:

How big a change are the new standards?

Common Core standards don’t limit what I do in the classroom – they open doors.  I can use interesting topics from articles or chapter books and dig deeper into literature with the students.  I can teach them to look at the text, see who the source is and see if they believe it. That’s what the standard says.

What I’m teaching hasn’t changed drastically.  But we go deeper and spend more time on skills.  We don’t just teach something and move on.  In math, for instance, we do lots of different activities having to do with place value.  I try to make sure that not only can they do a paper and pencil task but, maybe, a task with place value blocks or a word problem or game that involves, say, adding five ten-thousandths to this number.  I try to make sure they really, really own those skills.

In English, we spend a lot more time looking closely at the text and answering real questions.  There’s no more, “How did you feel when you read that?”  Now it’s, “How did the character feel or why did the character do this?”

We do have teachers’ guides that help with questions on such things as identifying the themes, the skills and the vocabulary.  It’s all right there for the teacher.  But I don’t use those worksheets.

I’m looking for, “What are the things in the new standards that I need to use from that teachers’ guide?” – like identifying the theme, for example.  Say the theme in a given book is “friendship.”  I might draw from the questions in the teacher guide that deal with friendship but leave out the questions that say, “Describe a time when you had a friend”

We just have to pick the parts of existing materials resources that best fit the standards so we don’t have to start from scratch.


Amazing second grade teacher talks about how her kids are responding to the new standards

Jane Ellwood teaches second grade at Manchester’s Northwest Elementary School, where Principal Shelly Larochelle has been leading a savvy and effective rollout of the new state standards.  Here’s how Ms. Ellwood described her experience to me: (more…)