Delve into the Common Core Standards for Mathematics

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By Chris Avila
Idaho Mathematics Coordinator

By now, you have heard of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics. The state is working to transition to these standards now because they will be taught in classrooms by the 2013-2014 school year. As Idaho's Math Coordinator, I am here to answer your questions and help every teacher better understand how these standards ensure every student becomes successful in life after high school.

You may have heard that "these standards are different". True. You may have also heard that the writers of the CCSS for Mathematics were committed to developing a quality set of content and practice standards. They were. Will the standards require a shift in how and what we teach? Absolutely. But the standards were designed with a successful classroom in mind; that means both teachers' and students' needs were considered in their development.

The CCSS for Mathematics have three primary goals: to promote college and career readiness, to enlist an evidence-based approach, and to be realistic about the time it takes to teach a topic with appropriate depth.

The writers wrote the standards based on evidence that tells us what students need along the way to be college and career ready. Every student who learns these standards should graduate from high school prepared to go on to postsecondary education or the workforce without the need for remediation. That's a lofty but crucial goal.

Teachers familiar with standards revisions might cringe to think what "raising standards" might mean. In the past, it's often meant more and more expectations at each grade level – an assessment-side approach in which the checklist simply grew with each revision. But CCSS is different. Working closely with states like Idaho, the writers of CCSS Mathematics approached the issue from both an instructional and assessment perspective. They were committed to being honest about the time it takes to teach a concept with depth. This is good news for teachers and their students.

Could the writers have added topics at each grade level? Sure, but they didn't, and for very good reason. Overwhelming teachers and students with a myriad of topics forces teachers to race through the material and leaves students with an incomplete grasp of each skill. Quality teaching takes time. Building conceptual knowledge and procedural skill takes time. The writers of the CCSS knew this, and they delivered standards that are both focused and coherent.

Drafting quality standards is just the first, and perhaps the easiest, step. Shifting how we teach to meet them is more difficult. Implementing these new standards creates a major challenge and provides an incredible opportunity; you don't get one without the other. Quality implementation is the key to the success of the CCSS, and it is important that we get it right.

To do that, we will have to make a shift in how we teach and what we teach. With the CCSS, we shift away from "I covered the material" to "I have collected evidence that my students have conceptual and procedural knowledge."

These new standards are a move away from the cursory checklist approach that has accompanied the swelling list of standards we've had in the past. The CCSS for Mathematics bring a focus on content that we haven't seen before.

The standards for mathematical practice are not isolated skills or activities. Instead they are appropriate, observable actions that will allow students to demonstrate their knowledge. By ensuring our students really connect the dots of foundational mathematics, we build a base for future learning and success. These new practice and content standards contain a lot of "transferable knowledge," and this transferable knowledge better equips our students to master what they are learning and solve new problems.

Many of you are already making this shift in your classrooms as a result of the Mathematical Thinking for Instruction course. This course is in line with the CCSS for Mathematics and has put Idaho a step ahead of other states across the country.

Adapting to these new standards will require us to reimagine a lot what we currently do in our classrooms. Inevitably, that may lead to an initial discomfort for some of us. But as you spend more time with the CCSS for Mathematics, I think you will find these new standards foster an approach that's rather intuitive to most of us teachers – one that combines depth, and practice, and evidence of proficiency. I think you'll find the writers of CCSS got it right, and I am excited Idaho is embracing the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and English language arts to provide the best opportunities for every student.

If you have questions or want to learn about upcoming training opportunities, I am here to help. Contact me at cavila@sde.idaho.gov.

Find more information and resources at: http://www.sde.idaho.gov/site/common/mathCore/.