In-depth: Explaining the CCSS for math

A lot goes into preparing for full implementation of the Common Core State Standards, and many school districts across the United States have been spent the past few years getting to know the ins and outs of the standards and how they will affect their students and curricula.

Because the CCSS are not a national curriculum, merely guidelines, this leaves the task of making sure everything is properly aligned up to teachers and school administrators. While this gives educators more freedom to implement the standards in a way that will be most beneficial for their students, it also means that they need to find new educational materials aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

The K-8 Publisher’s Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, released by the lead writers of the CCSS math standards in 2012, offer a finalized set of guidelines for this very purpose. The criteria not only guide publishers as they develop new textbooks and other instructional materials, but can also be a valuable resource for school districts and states as they evaluate and revise their current materials to determine if any new ones need to be procured.

The document is a lengthy 24 pages, but the information can be extremely useful – the developers of the CCSS are adamant that the standards alone cannot raise student academic achievement, they need the help of teachers. Educators and district administrators will need to have a deep understanding of the concepts behind the development of the CCSS before they can judge whether or not the materials they use will be effective:

The implementation of the Common Core State Standards is bringing some key shifts to math instruction. The standards narrow the scope of content covered in each grade (i.e. the focus) so that students can more deeply understand what they are learning and build foundations of knowledge that will help them excel in future math courses. According to the publisher’s criteria, focus is particularly important in middle and high school as students prepare for college and their careers.

In addition, the standards, educational materials and teachers’ instructions should come together to form a coherent message that makes sense to students. This all comes back to the ability to make connections between mathematical topics so there is a smooth progression of learning. The standards should not be approached as if they are separate entities, rather, there should be connections across grade levels.

With the help of coherence and focus, students should be able to meet the rigor of the CCSS. When using the word “rigor,” the developers of the math standards mean three things: conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and applications. Teachers should strive for an equal intensity in all three areas. Curricula has not always been balanced, and this is something that the Common Core State Standards aim to change. Currently, many available textbooks focus their rigor on one particular area, but this will likely evolve as publishers work to meet the new criteria.

White Paper What were your thoughts on this blog? Tell us what you think in the comments section below. Want to learn more about 21st Century Learning? Check out our recent white paper, An Elementary School Principal’s Guide to Transitioning to the Common Core.

Neal Manegold

Producer, DreamBox Learning | MBA, Technology Management | NBCT, Middle Childhood