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Comparing the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and NCTM’s Curriculum Focal Points

Comparing the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and NCTM’s Curriculum Focal Points

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Published by Achieve, Inc.
As educators and policymakers review the CCSS in mathematics, they will want to consider the way these new standards compare to, and build on, existing standards in mathematics. This brief describes the comparison between the CCSS and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Curriculum Focal Points. (July 2010).
As educators and policymakers review the CCSS in mathematics, they will want to consider the way these new standards compare to, and build on, existing standards in mathematics. This brief describes the comparison between the CCSS and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Curriculum Focal Points. (July 2010).

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1775 Eye Street NW
Suite 410
Washington, DC 20006
Phone (202) 419-1540
www.achieve.org © July 2010
CommonCore
Achieving the
Comparing the Common Core State Standards inMathematics and NCTM’s
Curriculum Focal Points
Introduction
Through the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative, states and territories have collaborated in the developmento a common core o standards in English Language Arts and mathematics or grades kindergarten through twelve that arenow being adopted by states. Designed not only or the purpose o providing strong, shared expectations, the CommonCore State Standards will also allow adopting states to collectively create and share high-quality tools such as assessments,curricula, instructional materials (such as textbooks and sotware), and proessional development programs.As educators and policymakers review the CCSS in mathematics, they will want to consider the way these new standardscompare to, and build on, existing standards in mathematics. This brie describes the comparison between the CCSS andthe National Council o Teachers o Mathematics (NCTM)
Curriculum Focal Points
.
Common Core State Standards in Mathematics
The K-5 standards provide students with a solid oundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division,ractions and decimals—which help young students build the oundation to apply more demanding math concepts andprocedures successully, and move into applications. They also provide detailed guidance to teachers on how to navigatetheir way through knotty topics such as ractions, negative numbers, and geometry, and do so by maintaining a continuousprogression rom grade to grade. Having built a strong oundation in K-5, students can move to more complex work ingeometry, algebra and probability and statistics in the middle grades to gain a rich preparation or high school mathematics.Students who have completed 7
th
grade and mastered the content and skills through the 7
th
grade will be well-preparedor algebra in grade 8. The high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways o thinking toreal world issues and challenges; they prepare students to think and reason mathematically across the major strands omathematics, including number, algebra, geometry, probability and statistics. Note that the CCSS promote rigor not simplyby including advanced mathematical content, but by requiring a deep understanding o the content at each grade level, andproviding sucient ocus to make that possible.The CCSS in mathematics lay out a vision or what all students need to master to be ready or credit- bearing collegemathematics courses without remediation. Some o the high school standards are designated by a (+), indicating thatthey are above the college- and career requirement but necessary or students to take advanced mathematics courses inhigh school such as calculus, advanced statistics, or discrete mathematics, and to be prepared or Science, Technology,Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) coursework in college.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
Focal Points
The NCTM published its
Curriculum Focal Points or Prekindergarten Through Grade 8 Mathematics: A Quest or Coherence
 (2006) as a companion to its comprehensive and infuential
Principles and Standards
(2000). The
Focal Points
describes themost important mathematical topics or each grade level and, since the document’s release, has been widely used by statemathematics content developers in designing their own standards and curricula. When published in 2006, the
Focal Points
 provided resh guidance on what students should learn each year, and the ways in which the strands o mathematicallearning should connect with one another across the grades.1
 
CommonCore
Achieving the
 
1775 Eye Street NW
Suite 410
Washington, DC 20006
Phone (202) 419-1540
www.achieve.org © July 2010
CommonCore
Achieving the
Achieve’s Analysis
Achieve has analyzed the CCSS and
Focal Points
to determine how they compare in terms o
rigor, coherence, and focus
mathematical content.
Rigor
reers to the degree that sets o standards address key content that prepares students orsuccess beyond high school.
Coherence
reers to whether the standards refect a meaningul structure, revealing signicantrelationships among topics and suggest a logical progression o content and skills over the years.
Focus
reers to whetherthe standards suggest an appropriate balance in conceptual understanding, procedural skill, and problem solving with anemphasis on application and modeling; the standards should be teachable within a school year (or across our years o highschool), and key ideas in a given grade or topic area should be clear. Standards that are rigorous, coherent, and ocusedprovide better guidance to educators, students, and parents about desired learning outcomes than those that are not.Expert mathematics content analysts conducted a side-by-side comparison o the CCSS and
Focal Points
, looking particularlyat the inclusion and treatment o mathematics topics at each grade level. This brie describes their ndings.
Major Findings
The CCSS are similarly rigorous to NCTM’s
Focal Points
. While some content occurs earlier in the CCSS, the twodocuments generally describe the same content.While the CCSS and the
Focal Points
are comparable in their coherence and ocus, dierent purposes or each docu-ment lead to dierences in their levels o specicity.
Detailed Findings
Rigor 
Because the infuential
Focal Points
was an important resource or the developers o the CCSS, the two documents havemuch in common and generally describe the same content. However, there are some dierences in the later elementary andmiddle grades regarding when topics are included.
Elementary grades:
Through the end o grade 4, the CCSS and the
Focal Points
address much o the samecontent, although the CCSS introduce some content earlier than the
Focal Points
. By the end o grade 4, bothdocuments expect students to understand the our basic operations with whole numbers, place value, and themeaning and uses o ractions. Both documents introduce statistical topics primarily as reinorcements or work withnumbers and measurement in the early grades. The strong oundation in number sense allows students to progressquickly in middle and high school through data, probability and statistics, culminating in content that is generallymore rigorous than that ound in many state standards. However, specic dierences in grade placement arepresent in a number o instances. For example, the CCSS expect student to establish equivalence o simple ractionswith unlike denominators (e.g., 1/2 = 2/4 or 4/6 = 2/3), and express whole numbers as ractions earlier than
Focal Points
. The CCSS require fuency in the addition, subtraction, and multiplication o ractions by the end o grade5; the
Focal Points
requires students to do this by the end o grade 6. Despite these dierences, they do not leadone document to be more rigorous than the other since by the end o Grade 6, the two documents cumulativelydescribe substantially similar bodies o knowledge.
Middle grades:
With only a ew minor exceptions in geometry and probability, the CCSS and the
Focal Points
 describe similar content in the middle grades. Areas o overlap include the major hallmarks o algebra—proportion-ality, linear expressions and inequalities, and using equations and inequalities to solve real-lie and mathematicalproblems—which prepare students well or the more advanced mathematics they will ace in high school. There aresome dierences between the two documents. For example, the CCSS require students to understand the role otransormations o geometric shapes on a coordinate plane, and in the area o probability, the CCSS expect stu-dents to extend their knowledge o probability to compound events in grade 7, where the
Focal Points
does not.2
 
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Suite 410
Washington, DC 20006
Phone (202) 419-1540
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CommonCore
Achieving the
Coherence and Focus
Achieve’s analysis indicates that the Common Core State Standards and the
Focal Points
share some key traits o coherenceand ocus. For example, both documents develop an understanding o adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing wholenumbers over an average o about three years. Mathematical reasoning is addressed in both documents and both alsohighlight the importance o explaining and justiying solutions to problems.Both sets o standards expect students to learn similar amounts o content in each grade level, and the
Focal Points
buildson the pioneering standards rst developed by the NCTM in 1989 by articulating clear and realistic priorities or studentlearning in kindergarten through grade 8. The CCSS were designed to be similarly ocused, although they extend throughthe end o high school. Both documents make clear that curricula should be ocused on a tightly dened set o contentand skills each year in order or students to build a strong oundational understanding o mathematics beore they beginhigh school coursework. In particular, both documents provide an in-depth treatment o number and operations, withreinorcement rom other content areas. This emphasis allows students to progress more quickly through later content, asthe groundwork or more advanced mathematics has been laid.Despite these similarities in coherence and ocus, there are critical dierences between the CCSS and the
Focal Points
. Thesedierences are generally the result o the dierent purposes between the two documents, with the CCSS providing greaterspecicity in what students should know and be able to do, while the
Focal Points
provides more o an overview o themathematical topics at each grade.The CCSS provide more detailed and specic expectations o students. For example, the CCSS indicate that ourthgraders should compare base ten numbers: “Generalize place value understanding or multi-digit whole numbers:Recognize that in a multi-digit whole number, a digit in one place represents ten times what it represents in theplace to its right.” On this topic the
Focal Points
is less specic, indicating that students should be able to “…useplace value and properties o operations to write, compare, and order multi-digit numbers.” The greater level odetail and specicity in the CCSS provides additional guidance to educators regarding learning expectations.While both documents make connections among topics, the
Focal Points
’ presentation o the connections is particu-larly useul to educators. For example, the layout o the
Focal Points
includes a column in each grade that explicitlycalls out the connections among topics. In nearly all cases, these connections apply in the CCSS as well, but theyare not as explicit. As such, the
Focal Points
can be an important tool in guiding the implementation o the CCSS,particularly with respect to drawing important connections between and across the content.Like the standards o many high-perorming countries including Hong Kong and Japan, the CCSS begin with a ocuson the properties o operations
1
as a way o gradually preparing students or algebraic thinking. In contrast, the
Focal Points
introduces algebraic thinking through the creation, description, extension and explanation o patterns.The CCSS include this content somewhat later in Grades 4 and 5 ater development o the core knowledge associ-ated with numbers and operations in Grades 1-3. Because o this dierent progression, some states that adopt thestandards will need to be vigilant as topics will be introduced at dierent grade levels than at present, and teacherswill need to ocus on dierent content that may be less amiliar to them.In short, while the Common Core State Standards and the
Focal Points
share some traits o coherence and ocus, importantdierences exist. The
Focal Points
more clearly describes connections among topics, yet the CCSS provide greater detail andspecicity regarding learning expectations.
1
Associativity and commutativity of addition and multiplication, distributivity of multiplication over addition, the additive identity property of 0, and the multiplicative identity property of 1.
3

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