He drew a string of 10 circles across the page, then began to draw four more rows. Segovia stopped him. She broke down the problem with Diego until he understood that the 10 circles represented minutes and that he needed five rows to represent the days.
Developers of the Common Core decided U.S. students performed poorly in math compared with international peers because the American curriculum focused too much on rote learning and not enough on conceptual reasoning. Academics and experts said math instruction in America was a “mile wide and an inch deep,” with students getting shallow understanding of several concepts.
Skip Fennell, a mathematics education expert at McDaniel College in Maryland, said changes driven by Common Core represent a huge shift that requires parents to change their mind set about kids flying though math workbooks or skipping grades.
“Parents are used to seeing kids whiz through stuff, but done right, kids shouldn’t whiz through it,” Fennell said. “If you can mechanically do addition and subtraction and don’t know how the procedure works and can’t tell me whether your answer is correct or not, then we’ve lost.”
This change is also what frustrates parents in Montgomery. Even if the new curriculum is more difficult and requires more analytical thinking, there will still be students who can work beyond the already heightened expectations. There isn’t a clear path for those students, for whom a gifted program or magnet school might not be the right option.
Under previous curriculum standards, students learned many concepts in one grade and then often repeated them the next. With the new curriculum, this repetition has mostly been eliminated. Students spend much more time on fewer concepts in a single grade with just one opportunity to learn it, making it harder to skip ahead.
Instead of going down the hall to a more advanced math class, for the most part, students of all abilities now work in a single classroom in small groups.
In Segovia’s class, small groups rotated through workstations, doing a different activity every 10 minutes. all related to multiplying by five. They independently filled out math worksheets, sat at a computer or played a dice game.They also took turns sitting with Segovia, who created three different math lessons for the day. She designed each lesson to cater to different groups of students, based on their ability.
This 10-minute window with the teacher is when students can have their individual needs met, district officials say.
Friedman said she likes the new curriculum but worries that combining students of all abilities will stifle students going faster at math.
“The teacher is never going to pay attention to the kids who need more enrichment,” Friedman said. “They’re going to pay attention to the kids who can’t get [the material].”
Lang, the assistant superintendent, said the county is continuing to develop “enrichment” material for students who move faster than others. And for the students who can go even faster, the county intends to introduce a plan this winter that will show how students can take geometry — the next course after algebra — by eighth grade.Lang said he doesn’t know how many fewer students will fall into that category compared with the school system’s old curriculum.
“We have to make sure kids are getting their individual needs meet,” Lang said. “We’ve been trying to figure it out, and it’s on us.”