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Even top textbook publishers get Common Core math wrong

Angela Weiss/Getty Images

New educational standards have hit another snag with recent reports showing that educational materials marketing themselves as Common Core math textbooks don't actually prepare students to meet Common Core standards.

Evaluations of four mainstream math textbooks found none of the materials fully met criteria for the Common Core, a set of shared expectations for what students should know and be able to do in reading and math, according to an independent review from EdReports.org, a nonprofit group that reviews Common Core education materials.

The evaluation was based on the text's coherence and focus, the rigor of the math problems, and the curriculum's usability. The four books, published by top textbook companies with millions of users — Connecting Math Concepts (grades K-5) and Glencoe (grades 6-8) by publisher McGraw-Hill; MathLinks (6-8) by the Center for Mathematics and Teaching; and Springboard (6-8) by the College Board — all failed.

Glencoe, MathLinks, and Springboard met certain criteria at some grade levels, whereas Connecting Math Concepts did not meet any of the standards.

All of the reports can be found here.

What are Common Core math standards?

The Common Core math methodology has been known to stump parents and teachers alike. Turning old-fashioned arithmetic on its head, the Common Core system, which has been adopted by 43 states, is more focused on ensuring students understand how a problem works, rather than getting it done.

Whereas before math was taught in shortcuts (like how we all learned to carry over numbers when we add), Common Core tries to teach kids the tools to figure out these shortcuts themselves.

Vox.com's Libby Nelson explains why Common Core math problems look so weird to Common Core outsiders.

The Common Core expects students to learn to make sense of a problem, critique the reasoning behind it, apply the math to real-life situations, and establish patterns.

Within this overarching methodology, each grade level has specific things students are expected to learn. For example, in kindergarten students must be able to understand shapes and operations around the number line.

That's where the four math textbooks fell short. According to EdReports.org's analysis, McGraw-Hill's Connecting Math Concepts had difficulty, um, connecting math concepts.

Instead of showing how the math skills connect to one another, the curriculum jumped to more advanced topics without making sure students had a firm understanding of kindergarten-level skills. It consisted of "isolated exercises, with no discernible pattern or intent to make connections across content," the report said.

That's a big no-no for Common Core, which relies heavily on strong foundations.

What the textbook makers said

McGraw-Hill, along with the other evaluated publishers, was given the opportunity to respond to EdReports' reviews.

"Rigorous field testing confirms success for students whether used as a core math program or intensive instruction for students at-risk," McGraw-Hill said in a statement. "When implemented with fidelity, Connecting Math Concepts Comprehensive Edition results in significant, positive results in mathematics achievement."

In other words, the company says when schools implement its curriculum in good faith, they achieve "positive results." But this doesn't necessarily mean the materials themselves are Common Core–compliant.

This is the second round of curriculum evaluations from EdReports, which previously reviewed 20 other math curricula, finding 17 of them unsuitable. However, after receiving some backlash over its reviewing methodology, which includes "gateways" a curriculum must pass to be reviewed further, EdReports has now changed the process to include more evidence and allow for publishers to respond.

EdReports plans to release eight more K-8 math reports in the coming weeks, before moving to high school math and language arts in the spring.

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