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What Common Core Means for High School Mathematics

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Implementation of the Common Core State Standards Initiative has huge implications for high school mathematics courses and the teachers who teach them. This is evidenced, in part, by the fact that the Common Core Standards for Mathematics document includes a lengthy 148-page appendix devoted to a discussion and illustration of how high school mathematics courses should be designed in order to best implement the standards. At first glance, the content of the courses modeled in the appendix looks pretty familiar. Most of the topics and objectives are the same ones we have emphasized for years. If that’s the case, then what is so different about Common Core?

Some Background Information

The goal of the Common Core State Standards Initiative is to ensure college and career readiness for all students by the time they finish high school. The prevailing notion is that, traditionally, mathematics education has been far too thin and has not equipped graduates with the deep conceptual understanding and higher-order thinking skills necessary for life after high school. I think most mathematics teachers agree with this opinion, or at least understand the reason for it. As much as we hate to admit it, many students fall through the cracks and graduate from high school with far less mastery of mathematics than they need.   

Organization of the Standards

If you haven’t had time to study the standards closely, it might help to have a brief overview of how they’re organized. The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics are divided into two major components, the Mathematics Standards for Content and the Mathematics Standards for Practice. The eight Standards for Mathematical Practice identify mathematical ways of thinking that learners should develop and use while studying mathematics. The Standards for Mathematical Content, which specify the mathematics knowledge and skills students should master, are organized by grade for grades K-8 and into six content areas at the high school level.    

What’s So Different?

Perhaps the biggest difference mathematics teachers will experience as they transition to Common Core standards will be tackling the task of incorporating the Standards for Mathematical Practice into each of the content areas. These practices are intended to develop higher-order thinking skills in conjunction with mastering specific content. Teachers will likely have to search for good supplemental materials and activities to use in the classroom. They should also be quick to request high-quality, effective professional development on implementing the practices.

Challenges for Teachers

As high schools begin to implement the Common Core standards for mathematics, I believe many of the challenges for teachers will stem from factors beyond their immediate control. The standards are structured so that, in a perfect world, students will enter high school with a strong foundation in mathematics and fully prepared to build on that foundation. However, we understand all too well that young people do not live and learn in a perfect world, and the standards do not provide intervention methods or supporting materials for those who fall below grade level. Suggestions are included, but it is up to each individual district to create and implement support and intervention programs and to allocate necessary funds and resources. Classroom teachers may very well have to step up and take an active role in advocating for such programs.  

More Common Core Resources

Common Core Standards for Mathematics

The more familiar you are with the Common Core standards, the easier your job will be in the classroom. You also need to know the standards well enough to advocate for good support programs for pupils and professional development activities for teachers. Refer to this document often.

Finding a Curriculum for Common Core

You’re going to have to get creative as you plan your curriculum to implement the Common Core standards in your mathematics classroom. Use the tips in this article to help you adapt your textbooks and supplemental materials.

About Common Core

Learn more about the impact of Common Core on scholars and teachers. Use this information to help educate parents about the importance of embracing Common Core.

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