Nebraska’s New Math Standards: A Comparison to the Common Core

By Liana Loewus — September 15, 2015 3 min read
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Recently, Nebraska—one of the four states that never adopted the Common Core State Standards—settled on a new set of K-12 math standards.

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a few states, including Indiana and South Carolina, adopt the common-core standards, repeal them, and then go on to adopt new standards that look pretty much exactly like the common core.

So I wondered about Nebraska, a never-adopter: Do its 2015 standards look like the common core?

Cory Epler, a senior administrator in curriculum and instruction for the Nebraska education department, wrote in an email that “we [i.e., the department] did not use the Common Core State Standards as our starting point.”

I took a look at the new standards and saw, off the bat, that they are distinct from the common core—they use different wording and organization and fewer examples.

But they do contain many of the hallmarks of the common standards, which 44 states and the District of Columbia are now using.

Here are some things I noticed (in my admittedly not-comprehensive comparison):

  • The new Nebraska standards begin with a set of “mathematical processes,” which look a lot like the common core’s “Standards for Mathematical Practice.” For example, the Nebraska standards ask students to “make sense of mathematical problems and persevere in solving them"—the same wording appears in the common core. The idea of making practice (or process) standards that describe the behaviors of proficient math students a part of the official standards document was unique to the common core when it was published.
  • As I’ve written, one of the major content changes in the common core was the emphasis on teaching fractions as numbers on a number line (rather than pieces of pie or parts of a whole). The new Nebraska standards for 3rd grade ask students to “represent and understand a fraction as a number on a number line.” This is a change from the previous Nebraska standards.
  • As the education department notes on its website, the new standards “have an even stronger focus on building a solid foundation of number sense” (and this is evident throughout the document). The common standards also spend a lot of time building number sense—much more so than most previous state standards.
  • The new Nebraska standards are also less duplicative from grade to grade than previous standards. That’s something the common-core writers strived for as well—building on skills each year rather than repeating them.

A More Teacher-Friendly Layout Than Common Core

I checked in with Bill Herrera, a senior associate and assessment specialist with edCount, a Washington consulting firm, as well to get his opinion.

Overall, Herrera said he “didn’t notice any big gaps across the two documents.” The Nebraska standards are “simplified and shorter, and yet they retain that rigor the common core has set as the new bar,” he said.

One of the main differences he noted was that the Nebraska standards are color-coded, as follows.

According to Herrera, both the colors and the consistent categories across the grades make the Nebraska document “more teacher-friendly than the common core.”

In writing the common core, “they kept changing up the names of the clusters and domains,” said Herrera. “For lots of teachers, it just confused them.”

The consulting group McRel did an analysis of Nebraska’s previous state standards in 2013 and found that 417 of the 546 common-core math standards (or about 76 percent) were addressed by the Nebraska standards.

Epler of the Nebraska education department said he anticipates that, at some point, his organization will do a crosswalk with the new standards, “mainly to support our teachers and schools as many resources (textbooks, etc.) are CCSS-based.”

As I’ve written before, common-core materials have already crept into all the states that have refused to adopt the standards—Nebraska included.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.