Study: Common Core could boost U.S. math performance


  • Focus: Lessons are concentrated on a smaller number of topics.
  • Coherence: Math is logically constructed, and instructors cannot “skip” ahead.
  • Rigor: Moving from early grades up to middle grades reveals that middle grades concentrate less on arithmetic and more on algebra and geometry skills.

After coding information from the TIMSS to identify which topics were taught at which grade level, the team next examined and coded Common Core math standards, and they compared what topics are taught at what grade levels to those in the TIMSS study. Researchers found a 90-percent overlap.

“A 90-percent consistency, I think, leads to the conclusion that we have standards that are very coherent, focused, and rigorous, and in fact it is time to simply stop talking about them and stop debating it, and simply move to the real, serious implementation thereof. These are world-class standards,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt said the Common Core math standards have the potential, if properly implemented, to help boost student performance because they are very consistent with international standards found in countries whose students were among top performers.

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“It’s impossible at this point to show [definitive results] with the Common Core, because they are nowhere fully implemented,” he said. The team decided to simulate what a relationship between the common math standards and student achievement might look like given currently available data.

Using data from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and a 2007 study on international teacher preparation, along with the same coding methods, researchers coded math standards in all U.S. states.

The results revealed that states with past math standards that were more similar to today’s Common Core math standards demonstrated a significantly higher performance on the 2009 NAEP. Schmidt cautioned that this is not a causal inference, nor does it suggest that this is exactly what will happen once the Common Core math standards take hold, but the results do give a sense of how states may perform and improve student math achievement once they are following the common math standards.

While many think of the Common Core as an attempt to improve students’ academic performance, Schmidt noted that the “common” aspect is important as well, because the standards are intended for all students. The U.S. education system has vast inequities, he said, and “there isn’t anything that you can expect that all children will necessarily experience in the right order in the right grades.” This has led to a serious problem that “further exacerbates problems across social class groups in terms of what we expect them to learn.”

Laura Ascione
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