Why Are States Changing Their Approach to Mathematics?

Posted on 10/24/2015 @ 12:45 AM

Tags: blog, policy, education

By: William Renderos, Policy and Legislation Fellow, LULAC National

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are revolutionizing our approach to children’s learning in 42 states; Washington, D.C.; and four United States territories. These standards create a clear and concise single set of education standards for all participating states, with the goal of preparing students for entry-level credit courses in two or four-year college programs or the workforce. Switching to new standards in these states gives local schools an opportunity to improve their English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics curriculum.

Why is the common core necessary? In 2013, the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) issued their latest 8th grade mathematics report. Results showed that 79% of Latino students in the 8th grade had only a basic understanding of 8th grade math or below. Only 18% of Latino students in the 8th grade met the grade level standards for mathematics. These numbers show we need to somehow reevaluate the way we teach math to our Latino students. The new common core math standards that states have adopted allow us to do just that, opening the door to new approaches that improve the way students learn math. These new standards focus on critical thinking and reasoning development, which are key skills needed to understanding higher levels of mathematics.

Before the new standards, schools across the country would teach several concepts over a short period of time instead of focusing on in-depth knowledge of specific concepts. Like the saying goes, schools went an inch deep for every mile of concepts. Now, states with the new standards teach students in a way that helps them proficiently understand math concepts. Thus, we can say schools go a mile deep in understanding for every inch of concepts they teach. Curriculums based on the new standards build the depth of knowledge necessary to understand mathematical concepts, cultivating students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills and ensuring long-term success.

Dr. Raj Shah, creator and founder of Math Plus Academy in Ohio, talks about the importance of changing the way we think about the new math standards. In his video, Why is Math Different Now, Dr. Shah talks about how teaching students to remember math procedures at the expense of critical thinking does not work. Only a few students do well this way. However, teaching students to think and understand the concepts through critical thinking and reasoning skills helps them discover different ways of solving math problems. This leads to a better understanding of concepts for students who have trouble remembering math procedures. Ultimately, students who understand the concepts can think in many ways and it helps them with mental math.

LULAC understands that changing the way our Latino students learn math can be confusing and can create questions for parents who want to help their children succeed. To help eliminate the confusion, LULAC wants to provide parents with resources that will help improve their children’s critical thinking and reasoning skills in math. Our Ready, Set, Go Initiative will offer workshops that allow parents and their children to talk about the changes happening in the classroom while providing them with information sheets, study guides and other learning tools to help them with the new math standards.

Some of the resources will come from the website Be a Learning Hero, which separates resources by state, grade and subject, allowing parents and students to find the information they need for their state and grade on their learning tools page. Another helpful website is Univisión Contigo: Clave al Éxito, which provides Spanish resources for families who need learning tools for their child’s grade level.

Together we can change the way we think about math and help our Latino student’s intellectual growth with critical thinking and reasoning skills.

William Renderos is a Policy and Legislation Fellow for LULAC National. Prior to LULAC, he served as the Social Work Intern at Alliance for Justice and worked with a Maryland nonprofit organization to conduct outreach work with students attending alternative schools in Montgomery County. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work and Sociology from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a Masters of Social Work in Community Action and Social Policy from the University of Maryland, School of Social Work.

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