The Truth About CCSS and Performance
Common Core aims to improve educational performance and standardize what students should learn at every
grade in preparation for a lifetime of application, but it does not set curricula, nor does it direct
how teachers should teach. As with any educational reform, some teachers, schools, and school districts
will struggle with CCSS, some will seamlessly adapt, and some will thrive. As a parent, your responsibility
is to monitor what your kindergartner is learning, discover what is working or isn’t working for
your child, and to communicate with his or her teacher—and to accept that your children’s math instruction
does differ from what you learned when you were younger, or even what they might have learned last
year. The transition can be a little daunting for parent and student alike, but that’s not a product
of the standard itself. Common Core simply takes a new, more pointed approach to improving the quality
of math instruction in this country.
As previously mentioned, CCSS decreases the number of topics students learn at each grade. However, the
remaining topics are covered so extensively that the chances a child will master the corresponding
skills increase. An analogy to this approach is comparing two restaurants. One restaurant has a varied
menu with dozens of items; the other only serves hamburgers, fries, and milk shakes. The quality
of the food at the first restaurant may vary upon the cooks’ experience, the multitude of ingredients
required for so many offerings, and the efficiency (or lack thereof) of the staff. Because the second
restaurant only serves three items, mastering those three items efficiently should result in an excellent
customer experience. That’s not to say the first restaurant won’t succeed (because many do), but
there’s always a chance that something on the menu won’t live up to the business’s own expectations.
By reducing the number of math topics taught, Common Core helps ensure students are truly ready for what
comes next. Given the attention given to the included concepts, more practical applications and alternate
operations of the math can be explored.
Coinciding with the reduction of topics is an emphasis on vigor—achieving a “deep command” of the math
being taught. Students will be challenged to understand the concepts behind mathematical operations
rather than just resorting to rote memorization and processes to get a right answer. Speed and accuracy
are still important; kids won’t be getting away that easily from flash cards and quizzes that increase
fluency. Moreover, Common Core places even additional emphasis on practical application—after all,
the math kids learn now will be important when they become adults, even if they never have to think
about prime numbers or symmetrical lines in their day-to-day lives.
Finally, CCSS links standards from grade to grade so that the skills learned at one level translate into
the tools they need to learn at the next level. This coherence would seem an obvious educational
approach, but often, there is no link—students are taught a skill in kindergarten that might not
be used (and might have to be re-taught) until second grade. Each new concept in Common Core is an
extension of a previously, already learned concept.
Math Practices to Help Improve Performance
In addition to the grade-specific standards it sets forth, Common Core also emphasizes eight “Standards
of Mathematical Practice” that teachers at all levels are encouraged to develop in their students.
These eight practices, designed to improve student performance, are described here, with added information
on how they apply to kindergartners.
Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them
Students explain the problem to themselves and determine ways they can reach a solution.
Then, they work at the problem until it’s solved. This CCSS math practice encourages students
to take their time to read and try understanding the problem, emphasizing that the process
is ultimately important even if it doesn’t result in a correct answer. Kindergartners who
are just being introduced to reading likely aren’t going to encounter many word problems.
However, they may be given a math challenge and be encouraged to “talk it out” to help them
better arrive at an answer. Students this age will also be encouraged to use pictures or
objects to better visualize the problem and solution.
Reason abstractly and quantitatively
Students decontextualize and contextualize problems. By decontextualizing, they break down
the problem into anything other than the standard operation. By contextualizing, they apply
math into problems that seemingly have none. For example, kindergartners may decontextualize
almost everything as they learn how to add and subtract—counting out objects, drawing, or
even using their fingers to take them to the right answer. Kids this age who are contextualizing
may find themselves turning snack time into math time, separating their apple slices or graham
crackers into groups and adding or subtracting those groups before eating their food.
Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others
Students use their acquired math knowledge and previous results to explain or critique their
work or the work of others. As already mentioned, kindergartners may talk themselves through
math problems, counting out loud to get to a right answer. Besides boosting their confidence,
the ability to explain the math will increase their ability to excel at it.
Model with mathematics
This is just like it sounds: Students use math to solve real-world problems. Kindergartners
can be challenged to take the math skills they have learned into their own lives. For example,
kids this age can separate their toys into specific categories (e.g., blue Legos and green
Legos) or add the numbers of two groups of stuffed animals.
Use appropriate tools strategically
Another self-explanatory practice: Students learn and determine which tools are best for
the math problem at hand. The best tools for kindergartners as they master counting and simple
adding and subtraction are anything that can represent a number—counters, drawings, number
charts, or base ten blocks, just to name a few of many examples.
Attend to precision
Students strive to be exact and meticulous—period. Kindergartners might get some leeway
as they learn basic math concepts for the first time, but they also will realize that correct
answers are important. Furthermore, if a student can’t come up with the right answer with
any problem, he should ask for help.
Look for and make use of structure
Students will look for patterns and structures within math and apply these discoveries to
subsequent problems. For example, a kindergartners might understand that 17 is simply 10
+7 and, similarly, 19 is 10+9; by decomposing the problem, they understand place value, which
in turns leads to a better understanding of addition.
Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning
Students come to realizations—“a-ha” moments is a good term for these realizations—about
the math operations that they are performing and use this knowledge in subsequent problems.
For example, a child this age using her fingers to help count may discover that any time
she goes to her second hand, she is adding 5 to however many fingers she holds up in that
second hand (in other words, counting to 8 is the same as 5+3).