Education Research

Math Curriculum Inadequate to Common Core Expectations

According to a new report by RAND Corp., most of the curriculum being used by teachers for math instruction during the 2015–2016 school year failed to align with the Common Core State Standards. Also, the teachers couldn't always identify the approaches and content that aligned with their state standards for math. The report's conclusion: Teachers need a better understanding of the standards if they're going to be successful in having students engage in practices aligning with them.

The RAND report gave a web-based survey in spring 2016 to a teacher panel made up of a nationally representative sample of American K–12 public school teachers. The 1,718 respondents (out of a pool of 3,524) were asked about their understanding of their states' mathematics standards, practices aligned with their standards and the curriculum materials they use to implement them.

The Common Core has three characteristics that require teachers to realign their instruction:

  • First, teachers are expected to delve into fewer topics within each grade level, but do so more deeply.
  • Second, the content is divided among grades to provide a progression of math concepts and skills development, and it's up to the teachers to help students make the connections among topics; and
  • Third, students are expected to develop a conceptual understanding of the topic, as well as procedural skills and fluency and the ability to apply what they've learned to real-world situations.

Among the research findings, most people were using instructional resources that "were not highly aligned with the Common Core." Just 16 percent of elementary math teachers and 5 percent of secondary math teachers reported regularly using materials with a high degree of alignment. (Those teachers in states that haven't formally adopted the Common Core were not, by definition, using highly aligned resources.)

Also, most teachers could identify Common Core-aligned topics at their grade levels. Simultaneously, many teachers — especially those in higher grades — indicated that many topics not aligned with the Common Core should be addressed at their grade level.

Finally, more than a third of teachers reported that their students engaged in various standards-aligned practices "to a great extent." These would include using mathematical language and symbols, making sense of problems and persevering in solving them, explaining and justifying their work, choosing and using appropriate tools and applying math to solve problems in a real-world context. Yet, just a fifth of teachers reported that they've asked students to look for and make use of structure or construct viable arguments, two standards for math practice that are emphasized in the Common Core. And teachers with "more vulnerable students," such as English learners or those with individualized education plans, were less likely to report engaging their students in standards-aligned practices than other teachers.

The report recommended that teachers need a better understanding of their state standards if they're going to engage their students in practices aligned with those standards. States and districts can help teachers gain this understanding, the researchers suggested, by:

  • Making sure teachers have aligned curriculum;
  • Providing them with supplementary materials that are also aligned so they can meet the needs of all students; and
  • Supplying professional development and other means to help teachers learn the topics and sequencing of topics they should be teaching at their grade level.

The full report is openly available on the RAND website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.