Federal Letter to the Editor

Math Standards Need Common-Sense Revisions

September 10, 2013 1 min read

To the Editor:

There is an old saying, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot.” This statement has powerful implications when it comes to teaching the Common Core State Standards in math.

Using 5th grade as an example, there are approximately 30 standards. The school year is about 180 days long. This leaves six days per standard. Here are two examples of standards from 5th grade: “Add, subtract, multiply, and divide decimals to hundredths using concrete models or drawings” and “Classify two-dimensional figures in a hierarchy based on properties.”

Is a month too long to spend on the former, considering its importance and the omnipresent gaps in student background knowledge? High school science suffers because many students cannot read measuring devices or do the necessary computations.

Let’s envision a classroom where the latter is being taught. I confess that I forget the requisite mathematical vocabulary regularly, and I have a master’s degree in physics. Suffice it to say that the average 5th grader has forgotten it also. The reality is that more class time will be spent on the vocabulary than the higher-order thinking involved in classification.

The common-core math standards were developed in response to findings that the American math curriculum was “a mile wide and an inch deep.” The common core still has approximately 30 standards per grade level. But our research indicates that only two or three per grade level are critical. By correlating short assessments with accepted grade-level tests, we have identified 16 critical standards for 6th and 9th grades. Common sense says that some standards are more important than others. Leadership at high levels can bring common sense to math education, for the benefit of tens of millions of students and the country.

Bernice German


Peak Achievement LLC

Boulder, Colo.

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A version of this article appeared in the September 11, 2013 edition of Education Week as Math Standards Need Common-Sense Revisions


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