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The challenge of aligning math instruction with new standards

Math LearningSeasoned teachers know that education is constantly evolving – whether it be from the introduction of new technology, the implication of world events or the result of new standards being adopted by state and local governments. Sometimes these academic standards outline specific curriculum that teachers must use, such as with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.

Others, like the Common Core State Standards in the U.S., list academic requirements that students must meet, but don’t get into specifics about how teachers should be changing their curricula to meet the new standards. For teachers, this can mean greater flexibility of instruction, allowing them to use their expertise to develop curricula that is best-suited to the needs of their students. However, it can also present a challenge as teachers and administrators struggle to revamp their approach to education to ensure CCSS alignment.

This can be a formidable task, because new standards don’t just mean rewriting curricula – they also mean new assessments (and ones that are online, in the case of the Common Core State Standards), teacher preparation, acquiring standard-aligned materials and collecting student data to guide decision making. That can be a lot all at once, particularly if teachers are working to get everything done during the school year. Although the task may be difficult, it’s not impossible.

In the case of educators attempting to develop math teaching strategies that will help their students meet new academic standards, the key is to really delve into the subject and develop a deeper knowledge of the content. To reference an old saying, CCSS want the content that educators are teaching to be an “inch wide and mile deep,” rather than the other way around.

For math teachers, this can present challenges. The way that the U.S. education system is currently structured, the elementary math skills that students learn provide a foundation upon which they are able to continually build until high school graduation. Math education is structured sequentially, and in the middle school years in particular – when students are moving on to advanced math concepts – having this base knowledge is a critical component of academic success.

“A lot of what used to be in sixth grade standards are now taught in fifth grade,” Jackie Xuereb, a math teacher in New York City, explained to GothamSchools. “I feel that I’m going to have to be really mindful and cognizant of this in my planning for next year. The kids are going to have these huge gaps.”

One strategy that teachers may be able to employ to gage the level of students’ math learning is incorporating the use of adaptive learning technology into their curricula. Adaptive learning programs that are aligned with the Common Core State Standards can assess student knowledge, providing teachers with valuable data about what concepts students understand well and what may require additional instruction.

By working closely with school administrators and colleagues, teachers will be able to successfully adapt their curricula to improve math learning among their students.

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