Common Core, a bad first impression.
I remember an experience when a student came to me for math help. She was in 7th grade and was performing well in her pre-algebra class. Her mother had told me that even though she was scoring well, she had absolutely no interest in math and didn’t seem to fully understand the concepts. She was afraid that her daughter would underperform on the upcoming High School Placement Test (HSPT) and ultimately fall behind in 8th grade and high school. As I started working with this girl I realized what the problem was: Her foundation in math was very poor. However she was taught in her earlier grades did not offer her the conceptual stability to properly approach more complex math.
Academic development at an early age substantially influences how a student will perform in later stages. It’s like walking up a stair-master and missing a step that will not be there going forward, causing every step ahead of you to be that much harder. Pretty discouraging, right? This applies to all disciplines of academics, whether it’s reading, writing, grammar, math etc.
Lack of foundation: a byproduct of frustrated learning.
I noticed her frustration with multi-step algebra problems and realized that those fundamental, foundational skills were not developed correctly, leading her to resort to inefficient methods such as mental math. She was having a hard time understanding the purpose of a variable and the concept of an equation among other elementary concepts such as multiplying positive with negative numbers. How could this girl be getting an A in her math class?
After consulting with her mom, I found the underlying problem: She has been taught math under Common Core Standards. After speaking more with this girl, it made perfect sense. She could not recall when, how, or why she learned specific foundational concepts, even from the year before. The reality was that she was never really a bad math learner, just a unique one. She was not given the opportunity to take interest or learn the way that best suited her.
Discovering a solution.
I looked through her math syllabus and was disturbed to see how concepts were being taught out of sequence and had little emphasis. I decided that the best way to help her was to break math down to the foundational basics. We focused on strengthening her understanding and execution of elementary operations using real world examples to apply context and understanding of how, when, and why operations work the way they do. Because she is an abstract thinker and visual learner, using hands on and visual methods helped her to comprehend and process the concepts more efficiently. More importantly, her retention translated to increased confidence and proficiency.
Common Core: Is it a developmentally irresponsible approach?
After months of building, she was able to solve multi-step equations and word problems in a meaningful and methodical way. Her newfound confidence renewed her approach to math, enabling her to comprehend and learn in a more strategic and efficient manner. I was proud to see how far she had come. Common Core had failed her throughout her earlier education and could have robbed her of her potential; it was a watered-down, overly technical yet underemphasized method of teaching. It was a system that in theory was designed to fit a wide parameter of students, but in actuality never fully fits one.
By: Ken McCandless
Founder, CEO of Hillview Prep