States’ Focus on Building Math Understanding Is Helping Students. It’s Important They Continue to Make Parents Part of the Process

As states have raised classroom expectations and begun to focus math instruction on developing fluency and understanding, it has become “difficult and/or impossible for some parents to grasp” math concepts, writes Fay Kimmins, a Kentucky resident in a letter to the Paducah Day. “Assisting with homework becomes comparable to a parent finishing a surgery initiated by a surgeon.”

Many parents who learned math under old models of education may share Kimmins’ frustrations. However, changes to math instruction are meant to help students build conceptual understanding and fluency with numbers and functions – necessary steps to develop the foundational skills students need to succeed at high levels of math.

While these changes may be unfamiliar to some, parents can – and should – be involved in supporting their children’s learning. Across the country, schools and teachers have been conducting outreach to help familiarize parents with changes to instruction, so they can continue to help their kids at home.

As we’ve noted before, even as math instruction has shifted to prioritize conceptual understanding, students are still expected to know their basics – like multiplication tables and standard algorithms. That presents families an opportunity to help their kids build math skills, even if they are unfamiliar with some of the new approaches, explains Jason Zimba, a math specialist. That can include traditional methods most parents do know, like flashcards and memorization drills.

Kimmins notes that teaching styles are “mandated” by the State Legislature. That’s not the case. High education standards like Kentucky’s articulate what students should reasonably know and be able to achieve at each grade. How teachers get their kids to reach those goals is up to districts and individual teachers. What they teach and how they teach it is up to them, along with their local school boards.

Parents should not let their unfamiliarity with changes to math instruction discourage them from supporting their kids. Families can work with their schools and teacher to support classroom instruction, and many education advocacy groups have developed tools to help them do so. We’ve compiled several resources that are available here.

Math instruction now aims to “ensure that our children have a solid understanding of the basics, so that they’re better prepared to conquer math in the future,” Jim Cowen explains. “Let’s focus on helping parents help their children not just understand math, but learn to love it.”

To turn back on the high expectations that Kentucky schools are implementing would be a mistake. High standards and high-quality assessments are working. Just today, the Kentucky Department of Education announced graduation rates and college and career readiness levels increased again.

Nearly 69 percent of Kentucky high school students are now college and career ready, up 14.4 points from 2013. About 100 more public schools qualified as “proficient” or “distinguished” over last year, according to state test results.

States that are have made a commitment to raising expectations for students and are willing to stick with it will likely continue to see improvements in student performance. Kentucky parents should resist the call to turn back to the old way of doing things, and instead partner with their schools and teachers to help unlock their children’s full potential.