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Common Core Math: What Is It?

By Nicole Hilsabeck

When trying to utilize or explain the Common Core standards, it helps to have a general understanding of what the standards are, how and why they were developed and how they differ from math standards taught in previous years.


Common Core Math: What Is It? Common Core standards are structured similarly to previous standards used in state frameworks, in that they are broken down by grade level into domains and strands. Previously, state frameworks designated what math standards students should learn in each grade. For example, a teacher could look up fifth grade math standards and see that in the domain of geometry, a fifth grade student was expected to be able to measure area and perimeter of rectangles. However, if that teacher were to move to a different state, the standards for a fifth-grader learning geometry could well be different.

Instead of states using their own individual frameworks for math standards, Common Core math standards provide a unified framework for all of the states to follow, so that there is consistency in what is being taught across the states. Teachers and students who move to different states can expect to teach and learn the same thing across grade levels (as long as those states are using Common Core).

How and Why It Was Created

To address the lack of consistency in standards taught and poor test scores of American students, Common Core math standards were created with input from educational professionals around the country. Education professionals submitted input based on current state standards, testing results and comparisons with math taught in other countries with successful programs. The input was compiled to create a list of standards designed to bring American students closer to the goal of being educationally competitive with students from other developed nations.

How Common Core Math Differs

Although the standards are written using a similar structure used previously in state frameworks, the fundamental difference with Common Core math is that it is designed to promote a more in-depth, analytical approach to understanding math concepts. Whereas standardized testing and previous state standards emphasized more rote procedures and memorization, students learning with Common Core standards are expected to work with conceptual understanding of math fundamentals and are encouraged to use and justify a variety of methods to solve mathematical problems. The number of expected standards students are expected to learn has decreased in each grade level, so that students can spend more time mastering the skills they need to truly understand the concepts taught in each domain.

Adapting a new set of standards can be challenging, but teachers and parents already have the tools to help students succeed. The concepts in Common Core math standards aren’t new, they’re just presented differently so that students can learn math in a different, more comprehensive way than it’s been taught over the last few decades.

In the next article, I will explain how teachers and parents can use the tools they already have to ease the transition for students adjusting to the Common Core math standards.