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Using Math Standards to Improve Student Learning

With many states implementing the Common Core State Standards–and some reconsidering their adoption–there is much conversation about the actual impact standards have on student learning as well as how well students know the ultimate goals of their learning. Many districts, schools, and teachers have not only updated their curricula to align with the Common Core standards, but they are also working to make sure students truly understand what they are learning.

Whether you are using the Common Core or another set of state or local standards, it’s important to develop assessments aligned with the standards and make the standards visible to students. As Wiggins and McTighe write in Schooling by Design, “Learners need clear, completely transparent priorities and a practical understanding of how learning goals are to be met in terms of work products and standards of excellence.” (p. 114)

To support the success of all students, be sure to consider the following things when using your standards:

  • Inch wide and mile deep: You know the old saying “a mile wide and an inch deep?” The Common Core learning standards were designed to focus learning on fewer topics and more conceptual understanding. The scope of content is narrowed so that students can more deeply understand what they are learning. As the learning focus shifts to big ideas, teachers are empowered to spend more time and energy facilitating critical thinking as students make sense of numbers and abstract mathematical ideas. The Common Core Publisher’s Criteria also stresses the importance of ensuring students make meaningful connections between math ideas and representations. Therefore it’s important to avoid the “teach a skill each day” approach in the classroom.
  • Meaningful contexts, situations, and real world applications: In order to empower students to think critically and independently in new situations, the Common Core State Standards emphasize linking math concepts to relatable applications and meaningful puzzles. Fortunately, this has been shown to be a key component of helping kids be successful in math. Common Core math lessons can involve situations from recipes with fractions or contexts involving time or money. Teachers and parents can work together by focusing on specific learning outcomes and sharing progress reports that provide qualitative information about student understanding rather than a single percentage or letter grade that obscures what the students knows.
  • Personalized learning: All children are unique. Therefore students don’t usually learn at the same pace as their same-age peers. Some may excel or show interest in a certain area of mathematics that others find challenging. In order to ensure that students are continually making progress and demonstrating growth and proficiency, personalized learning tactics can be used in the classroom. Instead of giving students a series of sequential worksheets to complete, teachers are working one-on-one with students or with small groups to determine whether or not they have a true understanding of each standard. Because this type of individualized attention is not possible in many school districts due to logistical or resource constraints, intelligent adaptive learning technology can be used to accomplish this task. It’s important to ensure the technology is also aligned with the standards. For states using the Common Core, the Standards for Mathematical Practice are important considerations when choosing technology for students.

How will you make sure your students are proficient in math standards? Share your thoughts with us!