Iowa Core Mathematics Standards, focusing on fewer topics and learning more


The Common Core State Standards in Literacy and Mathematics were integrated into the Iowa Core (IC) in June 2010. All Iowa schools are required to implement the IC. The IC provides higher expectations for all kindergarten through grade 12 students in Iowa by stating clearly what students should learn, when and how they should learn it, and how they should demonstrate and apply what they have learned.

This summer Marshalltown’s Elementary Math Leadership Team was given the task of aligning our current kindergarten through sixth grade math curriculum to the Iowa Core Mathematics Standards. This process resulted in instruction, ranging from 28 percent to 43 percent, being removed at every grade level. Fewer topics are covered because faithfully following the Standards means critical areas of learning are identified and focused upon using deep, meaningful learning experiences. Following the standards also means all students master critical math concepts. Yet, even though instruction was removed at every grade level, no learning is lost because the topics removed are realigned to higher grades where the concepts are studied in-depth and learning connections can be made.

Historically, American education has taught too many standards too fast. Students are moved on to new learning before they understand or master anything. The IC Standards have solved this “mile wide and inch deep” approach to learning.

First, the IC Standards require that each grade level dedicate 65 percent to 85 percent of instructional time to just a few critical areas of learning. This gives students time to experience deeply and master the knowledge and skills that research shows are essential to college and career readiness. Second, students’ learning is organized into Progressions of topics across a number of grade levels that connect to and extend from the strong foundations laid in earlier grade-level critical areas. Topics build in such a way as to allow students to make logical connections between mathematical ideas within and across grade levels.

This is different from previous standards that are organized in parallel strands. A strands-type of standards does not emphasize relationships between topics that occur in different strands. For students, this makes it difficult to learn new math because it is presented in random, disconnected pieces that don’t make sense to them. Eventually, students see math as a never-ending expansion of new ideas that are hard to learn.

For our students of math, the Iowa Core Standards bring important and much-needed changes, and we will continue to work to make the Standards a reality in Marshalltown schools as we build into learning, instruction, and assessment the focus, coherence, and rigor that these higher Standards demand.

Jan Kloberdanz and Laura Fricke are teachers at Lenihan Intermediate School and members of the Marshalltown Community School District Elementary Math Leadership Team.