New Study Explores Middle School Math Teachers’ Perceptions of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics

Findings have Implications for School Leaders Planning Professional Development

Across the country, middle school mathematics teachers are increasingly familiar with the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSSM) and report that the CCSSM are more rigorous than the state standards they are replacing, according to a recent survey funded by the National Science Foundation. However, the survey data shows that more support and resources are needed in order for educators to put the CCSSM into practice. Due to their widespread adoption, the CCSSM effectively constitute a national set of curriculum standards. 

The study, conducted by a group of researchers from the University of Rochester, Western Michigan University, Michigan State University, and Washington State University Tri-Cities earlier this year, surveyed a total of 403 middle school mathematics teachers working in 43 of the 45 states that have adopted the CCSSM. The survey examined teachers’ perceptions of the CCSSM and of the current levels of support and preparation they are receiving to teach the CCSSM.

Jeffrey Choppin“Very little is known about how to support teachers, specifically mathematics teachers, as they enact rigorous standards, like the Common Core, in ways that transform their current instructional practices,” says Jeffrey Choppin, associate professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, who serves as the study’s principal investigator. “We knew that the vital first step to helping administrators prepare for and support teachers in interpreting and implementing the Common Core Standards was to understand how an important subgroup of teachers—middle school mathematics teachers—perceive these new national standards that are designed to help students become more college and career ready by the time they graduate from high school.”

In all, 87 percent of the middle school math teachers surveyed were familiar with the CCSSM Standards for Mathematics Practice, while 86 percent were familiar with Content Standards, representing an increase from previous studies. The findings also demonstrate that the majority of teachers, approximately 87 percent, felt that the CCSSM are more rigorous than the previously used state standards.

Meanwhile, most teachers also reported that the CCSSM are multifaceted in their rigor, holding them accountable to both procedural fluency and conceptual understanding. Almost two-thirds of teachers in the study, or 63 percent, stated that the CCSSM emphasized procedural fluency as well as complex problem solving, mathematical communication, and activities that encourage students to explore problems. And more than one-third, or 40 percent, of the surveyed teachers agreed that they need to do more in both of these areas in order to provide opportunities for their students to learn the mathematics articulated in the new standards.

The survey also found that teachers need more support and access to better classroom materials and resources aligned with the CCSSM. For example, more than two-thirds of the teachers indicated that they were still using textbooks that were adopted prior to the implementation of the CCSSM. Additionally, one-third of the teachers felt the need for more support in implementing the new standards, as well as materials that are better aligned with the CCSSM. In the absence of these materials, more than 60 percent of middle school math teachers are turning to online resources to supplement their existing textbooks or creating their own curriculum materials.

Middle school math teachers will benefit from professional development that focuses on how to meaningfully incorporate the Mathematical Practice Standards, the researchers concluded. Professional development should focus on pointing out new content compared with previous state curriculum standards. Lastly, in the absence of CCSSM aligned curriculum materials, teachers need access to professional development that focuses on how to evaluate online materials to determine the quality and degree to which they align with the CCSSM Content Standards and embody the CCSSM Standards for Mathematical Practice.

The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and National Governors Association (NGA) in consultation with teachers, parents, experts, and school administrators from across the country and released in 2010, will be fully implemented across the 45 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories in the next few years. Part of a national move to improve teaching and learning, the goal of the CCSSM is to help the United States remain globally competitive. The new standards require teachers across the country to align their curricula and teach to more rigorous standards, especially in the middle school years. 

Funded by a four-year, $2.2 million grant through the National Science Foundation’s Division of Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings, the study’s primary objective is to help school districts implement the new national standards and improve mathematics instruction. The grant funding will help researchers publish principles for curriculum developers to design teacher resources for curriculum materials, professional development designers and instructional leaders to help teachers understand and better utilize curriculum materials, and teachers to use curriculum resources and design instruction.

The survey’s report, titled “Common Core State Standards for Mathematics: Middle School Mathematics Teachers’ Perceptions,” was issued by the Warner Center for Professional Development and Education Reform and co-authored by Professors Jeffrey Choppin, from the University of Rochester; Jon Davis, from Western Michigan University; my Roth McDuffie, from Washington State University Tri-Cities; and Corey Drake, from Michigan State University. 

Editor’s NoteJeffrey Choppin is available for interviews to discuss the study.

About the Warner School of Education
Founded in 1958, the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education offers master’s and doctoral degree programs in teaching and curriculum, school leadership, higher education, educational policy, counseling, human development, and health professions education. The Warner School of Education offers a new accelerated option for its EdD programs that allows eligible students to earn a doctorate in education in as few as three years part time while holding a professional job in the same field. The Warner School of Education is recognized both regionally and nationally for its tradition of preparing practitioners and researchers to become leaders and agents of change in schools, universities, and community agencies; generating and disseminating research; and actively participating in education reform. 
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Tags: Center for Professional Development and Education Reform, Common Core Math Standards, Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, Jeffrey Choppin, mathematics, mathematics education, research, teacher preparation, teaching and curriculum