In response to the need to better prepare Colorado students for higher education and our 21st century workforce, the state adopted a set of new, higher academic standards in 2010 called the Colorado Academic Standards. This new set of standards includes the Common Core English and math standards. Taken together, these more rigorous expectations require students to learn at much higher levels than in the past. The aligned standards also specify what students should know and be able to do after each academic year in classrooms spanning 43 states.
Given that the standards have been used in classrooms for two years now, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looked at whether elementary and middle school math teachers have changed “what and how they teach – and whether they’re seeing improvements in students’ math understanding as a result.”
After reviewing the Fordham Institute’s survey findings and subsequent report, here are some key takeaways we thought would be important to highlight:
- Math teachers believe Common Core is effective, but don’t believe their students and parents see its benefits. The majority of teachers who are using the Common Core recognize and praise the innovative skills that are required of students to better prepare them for higher education and in the workplace. As seen in the following graph, teachers believe that Common Core math standards are preparing their students for jobs specifically in STEM fields. However, parents and students are having a hard time seeing these results because of a lack of understanding about new methods of instruction.
- Teachers are becoming more skilled in identifying what math concepts students should know at each grade level because of Common Core. Instructors are now being held accountable for teaching to the same high standards, at the appropriate grade level, nationwide. These nationwide standards are leveling the playing field for students across the country to have an equal opportunity to learn and apply their skills in the workforce.
- Teachers are evolving their teaching styles. Instead of using traditional memory-based methods of teaching math, instructors are inspiring students to solve problems in multiple ways (seen below). However, the survey also found that learning is suffering at home, as parents “simply don’t know multiple methods themselves.”
- Teachers need support on how to effectively implement the Common Core. While some teachers report have access to Common Core math-aligned materials, it is not enough and continued support for refining teaching practices to meet these new standards will always be needed. Educators will continue to need differentiated support for reaching students who are below grade level and tasked with mastering these more rigorous standards.
- Teachers who have used the Common Core standards longer have a more positive view of them. Teacher acceptance of these standards is growing as more support and experience with the new standards builds familiarity. Also, primary educators have more positive views of the Common Core math standards and their impact on students when compared with middle school teachers.
Any important change does not happen overnight and now is not the time to be impatient. As our founder Zach Neumeyer has said, “short-term decision-making is ill-suited to addressing long-term problems.” The Common Core standards were developed to provide every child with the benefit of high expectations, defining the floor but not the ceiling of student learning. It is important for educators, parents, students, and state education leaders to continue working together to implement the standards with fidelity. Our students, teachers, and communities will all benefit from staying the course.