Coherency in Education Standards – Why does it matter? ~ Cathy Kotlarek


Cathy Kotlarek has been in education since the fall of 2001. She taught first through sixth grade students, worked as a reading specialist, and served as an instructional coach in Detroit before joining the Chelsea School District in December of 2012. Her current position is the Elementary Instructional Specialist with the Chelsea School District. She has presented at several conferences, and hopes that her affiliation with the foundation will allow her to share her experience with the CCSS in a significant way, and learn from her colleagues across the state.
<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “arial”,”sans-serif””=””>If there is one constant in education it is change.  Ask any teacher, and they will tell you that things are ever changing.  Once they get familiar and comfortable with one way of doing something, it changes.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “arial”,”sans-serif””=””>When I reflect on those changes, in particular the addition of coherence to our standards, and what that means for our students, my thoughts immediately go to my first grade daughter, Abby.  The way she is learning math is different from the way I learned math.  Things have changed.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “arial”,”sans-serif””=””>Over the past few years in Michigan the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have changed what and how we teach.  The most powerful difference between the previous standards that Michigan teachers used to use for ELA and math instruction, and the current Common Core standards, is the inclusion of coherence.  Coherence is the idea that standards build over time and progressively get more difficult.  As a student matriculates through school, the concepts that they learn in one grade level prepare them for the concepts they will learn in the next grade level and so on.  I have heard the standards described like a staircase; one grade level prepares you to step up to the next grade level.  Prior to the Common Core State Standards, the standards we taught in Michigan did not have coherence, and were haphazard in this area at best.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “arial”,”sans-serif””=””>My daughter Abby attends school in the same district where I work as an instructional specialist.  Recently, her class completed a unit on addition and subtraction.  During the course of the unit, she brought home her work, so I became familiar with the types of math problems she was being asked to do and the ways in which she was being asked to show her thinking.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “arial”,”sans-serif””=””>Near the end of Abby’s math unit I went into a second grade classroom in our district to observe the creative way the teacher was organizing her math lessons.  As I looked at the work that the second grade students were being asked to do, I saw that it mirrored what my daughter had been doing – but it was elevated to a more advanced level.   That was when coherence became visible and meaningful to me.  In that moment, I was so thrilled for my daughter and for all of her first grade counterparts across the country. The staircase of sequential knowledge was right there and they were poised to climb it.

<span “font-size:12.0pt;line-height:115%;font-family:=”” “arial”,”sans-serif””=””>Change is hard, but it is essential for moving forward.  Our world, and what we know about how students learn, is ever changing; Educational practices need to reflect that.  As for my daughter, Abby feels good about herself as a learner and she enjoys math.  That has not changed.  Are the Common Core State Standards perfect? No.  Are they leaps and bounds above the standards that Michigan used to have?  Yes they are, and we have coherence in part to thank for that.