Math instruction is about to change with some topics being introduced earlier, some omitted, and with students being required to show their understanding.

Across the nation, big shifts are afoot as 45 states and thousands of school districts gear up to implement the Common Core State Standards in math instruction.

Math instruction standards will change the grade levels at which some content is introduced, push aside other topics altogether to achieve greater depth, and ask students to engage in eight “mathematical practices” to show their understanding, from making sense of problems to reasoning abstractly and constructing viable arguments.

Some districts are already working hard to make the transition in math instruction.

In Albuquerque, N.M., more than three dozen 4th and 8th grade math teachers are piloting the new standards this school year. In fact, several of them starred in videos recorded last fall in their classrooms to demonstrate lessons.

In Boston, teams of teachers and teacher-leaders are developing new math instruction curriculum-guidance documents, grade by grade, and combing through the district’s textbooks and other instructional materials to see how they fit with the common core, what’s useful, what’s not, and where material should be reordered or supplemented.

In Howard County, the math standards were inaugurated for kindergarten this school year, with the 1st and 2nd grades to follow in the fall. To help prepare, district math leaders brought together some teachers, including Ms. Hupp, to serve in a focus group that delivered feedback on draft curricular materials for kindergarten.

“We would create things and get reactions from the teachers, asking: ‘Does this make sense to you? Would you change this?’ ” said Ms. Sammons. “They gave us some terrific insights into how to develop this tool that is useful and user-friendly.”

The suburban district also has started to communicate with families, whether at back-to-school events, in newsletters, or on the district website, to make sure they understand the changes coming. In fact, the district is planning a broader public relations campaign, with brochures, public forums, local TV spots, and even podcasts.

Gail F. Burrill, an academic specialist at Michigan State University and a former president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, suggests that bringing families on board is critical.

“It’s not going to be enough just to support the teachers in making this change,” she said, “if the broader community doesn’t understand and support it.”

‘Flipping a Switch’

States and districts face a host of challenges in adapting to the math instruction standards, from ensuring that teachers are adequately prepared and supported to overhauling the curriculum and, more broadly, figuring out exactly what exemplary classroom practices tied to the standards should really look like.

The transition is tricky since, even as districts are beginning to move toward the new math instruction standards, common assessments pegged to them have yet to be developed. District officials note that, for the time being, schools will be judged on existing state tests that don’t align to the new standards.

Meanwhile, many state and district officials say textbook publishers are scrambling to catch up with the common standards and few, if any, materials that truly align are available.

In addition, it’s not simply a matter of flipping a switch to have math instruction at all grade levels reflect the new standards.

After all, a lot of math content builds on prior learning.

“You can’t say, from one year to the next, we’re going to go 100 percent common-core standards, because students aren’t coming with the [prior knowledge] to embrace it,” said Jesch A. Reyes, the director of math and science for the 405,000-student Chicago district, which has a group of “early adopter” schools in which teachers are starting to implement the new standards and share lessons learned. “Over the next several years, we’re … introducing them incrementally, building teacher capacity and student capacity.”

CONTINUE READING this article on how math instruction is changing by Erik W. Robelen at

Erik Robelen is an assistant editor and reporter for Education Week and co-author of the blog Curriculum Matters