Mathematics Common Core Standards

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Today’s mathematics educators are part of the nation’s focus on a standards-based education. Many states have made a move toward Common Core Standards, which has greatly impacted how math teachers approach mathematics with their students at every grade level.

The Evolution of a Standards-Based Approach to Mathematics Education

Taking a standards-based approach to mathematics is certainly not a new concept, as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) launched its first Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics back in 1989. At the time, NCTM’s Standards were unprecedented, as it was the first time that an initiative was promoted to improve mathematics education.

Now, a quarter of a century later, these standards continue to shape mathematics education. Thanks to today’s Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM), which have been adopted by 45 states, the NCTM’s original Standards have, once again, revitalized a commitment to the improvement of math education in the United States.

CCSSM has introduced a new generation of aligned and rigorous assessments designed to address the continuing challenges of a comprehensive mathematics education. However, as the NCTM is quick to points out: “standards do not teach; teachers teach.”

As such, today’s math teachers use the CCSSM for guidance and direction. The CCSSM serve to help mathematics teachers clarify and compliment their existing teaching objectives and goals. The CCSSM also serve to motivate math teachers, math teams, and school districts to develop new instructional resources and assessments.

Principals in Action

Another set of standards, the NCTM’s Principles to Action, are often seen as a link between the CCSSM and a call to action for mathematics teachers. Specifically, the Principles to Action provide a gap between the adoption of the CCSSM and the enactment of practices, policies, programs, and actions required for widespread implementation.

NCTM’s Principles to Action has a defined set of mathematics teaching practices for today’s mathematics teachers:

Establish mathematics goals to focus mathematics learning: The effective teaching of mathematics establishes goals for students and helps math teachers guide their instructional decisions.

Implement tasks that promote reasoning and problem solving: Math students should be engaged in discussing tasks that promote mathematical reasoning and problem solving.

Utilize and connect mathematical representations: Math teachers should ensure that students are engaged as to make connections among mathematical representations and deepen their understanding of mathematical concepts and procedures and as tools for problem solving.

Encourage meaningful mathematical dialogue: Math teachers should encourage students to work together as to build a shared understanding of mathematical ideas by comparing approaches and arguments.

Pose purposeful questions: Math teachers should effectively assess students’ reasoning through the use of purposeful questions.

Build on conceptual understanding: The effective teaching of mathematics should build on a foundation of conceptual understanding so that students can become skillful in using mathematical procedures as to solve contextual and mathematical problems.

Allow the process of “productive struggle” to take place: Math teachers should always encourage students, both individually and collectively, to engage in productive struggle as they grapple with mathematical ideals and relationships.

Successes and Challenges in Implementing CCSSM

Whether teaching first grade or high school or general math or advanced calculus, mathematics teachers must have the ability to effectively communicate their math knowledge to students.

Today’s math teachers, thanks to the implementation of standards-based teaching, are enjoying record-high student achievement, according to the NCTM. The percentage of fourth graders, for example, who scored “proficient” or above on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) rose from 13 percent in 1990 to 42 percent in 2013, while the percentage of eighth graders who scored “proficient” or above on the NAEP rose from 15 percent in 1990 to 36 percent in 2013. Further, students taking Advanced Placement examinations in calculus and statistics increased nearly 21 percent between 1982 and 2013.

However, the NCTM also reports that math education in the U.S. still has a long way to go, as the U.S. ranked 26th in mathematics by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2012:

  • Eliminate ethnic, income and racial achievement gaps as to ensure that all students have opportunities to achieve high levels of mathematics learning
  • Ensure that all students are college and career ready when they graduate from high school
  • Increase the number of high school graduates, particularly from traditionally underrepresented groups, who are interested in and prepared for STEM careers

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