Things to Know about the Common Core

What do the standards look like?

View the Common Core math standards by grade. We believe most parents have never actually read the standards, so here's your chance! The standards are not too long.

Why does the Common Core Exist?

Before the Common Core existed, every state in the United States, including D.C., had their own separate set of standards and tests. It was impossible to compare the performance of students in one state with students in another state. Furthermore, speaking from our own experience with aligning with dozens of state standards, we can honestly say that most of the state standards documents in the past were ambiguous and subject to great interpretation, which is not a good thing for a standards document! The Common Core attempts to unify as many states as possible with identical standards. Best of all, we feel that the Common Core standards are well written. The states that have not adopted the Common Core math standards are the following: Texas, Nebraska, Alaska, Virginia, and Minnesota.

How would you characterize the Common Core math standards?

The Common Core math standards promote a balance between deep understanding of mathematical concepts and basic computation skills. Here is an example of both types at the early grade levels:

Basic computation skills

  • By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.
  • By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.

These standards are simple and unambiguous.

Critical thinking skills

  • Fluently add and subtract within 100 using strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction.

Given a question like 50 - 19, it is apparent from the standards that merely computing the answer of 31 is not enough. Ideally, the student could recognize 19 as "1 less than 20", so instead of subtracting 19, you could subtract 20 and then add 1, resulting in "50 - 20 + 1", which is very easy to compute. This is in fact the thought process that should occur when you solve this problem in your head, and the Common Core attempts to steer students toward this type of thinking.

How do schools interpret the Common Core?

This is where things become controversial. As we stated already, the Common Core standards document itself promotes a balance between critical thinking skills and basic computation skills. What we've observed, however, is that many school districts are paying too much attention to the critical thinking side of things and are abandoning the basic computation skills. This is a very bad approach. In 2006, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) released a document called the "Curriculum Focal Points", which was based on quite a lot of research. They pointed out that mastering math facts is a prerequisite for acquiring deep critical thinking skills. Our fear is that students across the nation are not mastering their math facts, which means that in many cases, students are being taught critical thinking skills when their mathematical foundation is insufficient to learn them. The good news, of course, is that MathScore can make up for this deficiency. We provide a free instant math facts assessment as well as the MathScore math practice and assessment product. We also have some advice for selecting a math curriculum.

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