29 August 2012

Common Identifiers for the Common Core

In order to do personalized learning at scale, with a mix activities and assessments from a variety of sources, we need to agree upon a common set of learning objectives. The Gates Foundation and the Shared Learning Collaborative, have endorsed the Common Core State Standards.

Side note: As we are in the election season, there is a lot of rhetoric around national curriculum and federal mandates. The Common Core is only a set of commonly agreed upon learning objectives. It's not a curriculum (national or otherwise) and it was developed by a voluntary cooperation among states with the federal government staying clear.

As we were developing the LRMI project, we anticipated the need to be able to reference the Common Core as well as other learning objectives. Unfortunately, the Common Core didn't specify a standard set of references. At the time (approximately 12 months ago) there were at least five different and incompatible ways to reference the Common Core. So, we turned to the coordinators  the National Governor's Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and with the help of Student Achievement Partners they developed a consistent set of identifiers for the Common Core.

In the next few weeks, they will be updating the corestandards.org website so that the URL identifiers will link directly the the specified standards. Also, the standards will be available in machine-readable XML format to facilitate a variety of learning applications.

It's a great step and will make a big difference. But in the process we identified another issue. Frequently a particular standard in the common core will include more than one learning objective. Here's an example:
CCSS.Math.Content.6.NS.B.3
Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation.
There are at least four learning objectives in this standard. The developers of assessments (such as PARCC and SBAC) have a problem with that. A typical assessment item will only test one one of these skills. Without finer-grained identifiers, they can't show complete coverage of the standards. Similar problems exist for learning activities and student records.

A few weeks ago, the NGA, CCSSO, SBAC, PARCC and SETDA announced a collaborative project to address this issue. By the end of the year, they expect to publish an open set of learning objectives based on a fine-grained parsing of the common core. They will also define a standard data format for publishing standards like these. That will be based on the data models proposed for Common Education Data Standards 3.0.

Of course, this still isn't the whole picture. Not all states are adopting the Common Core. The Common Core only addresses Mathematics and English/Literacy, the 50 states still have standards for other subjects. Other countries have their own standard learning objectives.

There needs to be a way for developers of educational standards to publish and share those standards.

The Achievement Standards Network, operated by JES & Co., maintains an open database of all 50 states' existing standards, plus the Common Core, plus those published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and many others. Under a new grant, they will be enhancing the database to accept the new standardized identifiers and they'll incorporate the learning objectives defined by the granularity project.

Concurrently, the Learning Registry is emerging as a distributed system for sharing Achievement Standards Data, Learning Objectives, Cross-References between standards and an index of learning activities that are aligned to standard objectives.

It may seem like chaos but this is more like a dance. And very shortly we should have a coherent foundation for developers of learning tools and instructional systems.

There are a lot of links up there. Here are repeat links to the three most important announcements:

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