Last week, I covered key shifts that have occurred with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts (ELA). This week, I'll talk about shifts in the mathematics standards. Just as with the ELA standards, the mathematics CCSS are focused on the knowledge and skills that students will need to succeed in college, in careers, and in life. Educators and policymakers have spent significant time deconstructing and decoding the new mathematics standards with the hope of bringing forward a better set of standards to propel mathematics learning and ultimately lead to success.
I would even argue that the shifts in mathematics are more significant than those in ELA. I say that because I have answered more questions about our mathematics CCSS products over the last few years than our ELA CCSS products. I think the questions and debate around the new standards is good and will ultimately improve mathematics education in this country. Here are my thoughts on the key shifts in mathematics and their impact on students and our curriculum.
Key Shifts in the CCSS for Mathematics
1. Greater focus on fewer topics
- What does this mean? - Students need to focus on deepening their understanding of specific mathematics topics instead of covering many topics without achieving mastery of any. The CCSS differentiates between major, supporting, and additional content, which can help educators direct their attention to the standards appropriately.
- Student impact - With the focus on deepening their understanding of mathematics, students have an opportunity to understand the "why" behind the math they are learning. Fluency and skills practice are important, but what's more important is that students can apply what they've learned to real-world problem solving. I expect that students will struggle with this shift at first, especially if they are transitioning to the CCSS in middle or high school because they may not have developed a deep understanding of the foundational math concepts in elementary school.
- Edmentum impact - Each lesson of our new math courses targets one standard, and each lesson addresses the eight mathematical practices, including guiding students through the steps of problem solving and allowing them to apply these skills to new problems. Focusing on a single standard gives students the time to think about, practice, and integrate the new standards into their learning.
2. Coherence: Linking topics and thinking across grades
- What does this mean? The CCSS are built on a logical connection of concepts from grade to grade. Coherence means that the standards represent a tightly woven progression of mathematical concepts that students can use to connect content and practices.
- Student impact - Students need to build a progression of mathematical learning from grade to grade in order to benefit from and understand the connections between each mathematical concept. It is critical that students learn important content thoroughly instead of just skimming the surface of understanding.
- Edmentum impact - To build coherence, our new math lessons give students specific opportunities to relate previous knowledge to new knowledge they are discovering. In the mastery model that all of our courses employ, students don't move on to the next lesson until they demonstrate mastery of critical material.
3. Rigor: Pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application with equal intensity
- What does this mean? Rigor doesn't mean making math harder for students or introducing topics in earlier grades. Rigor means balancing all aspects of mathematics learning so that students are strong in their conceptual understanding, their procedural skills and fluency, and their application.
- Student impact - Students can no longer simply memorize basic math facts, formulas, and mnemonics to get through a math course. Students need to master the critical content and essential skills that enable application in new situations and in the real world.
- Edmentum impact - Each unit of our math courses is designed to focus equally on understanding, fluency, and application. Lessons introduce and teach concepts using direct instruction and reinforce instruction with skills practice through lesson activities that interweave the eight mathematical practices. Each unit ends with a unit activity which requires students to apply what they've learned to a real-world situation.
The CCSS for mathematics will be challenging for students as they work each year to understand how and why math works and the reason it is a key factor in career, college, and life success. I'm excited to see how these key shifts will produce students who excel in and love math.
Want to learn more about how Edmentum can partner with your school or district to provide mathematics solutions built to the Common Core and other stare standards? Check out this resource on our new math and ELA courses in Plato Courseware.