Melissa Davis told her second-grade class a math story about butterflies and bees. Then the children took out cubes and figured out how many more butterflies there were than bees.
The concept these 7-year-olds were learning — “how many more” — is just one of 77 math concepts Arizona secondgraders must learn before the end of the school year.
“It’s a lot to cover,” said Davis, who teaches at Mesa’s Falcon Hill Elementary School.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics agrees.
A new report released last week by the high-profile education group says the sheer number of state math standards for preschool through eighth grade — up to 100 in some states — means some teachers are lost as to which are the most important.
“When a teacher sees that, they assume everything is of equal import- ance,” said Jim Rubillo, the council’s executive director.
He said it results in math instruction that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
“People are running around worrying about their test results, but no one is talking about what is most important,” he said. “We’re testing everything.”
The council released new “curriculum focal points,” that narrow the focus to just three main math ideas at each grade level that all instruction can be built around.
“We put this out to encourage states to have this discussion,” he said.
The Arizona Department of Education will consider the new recommendations as it begins to revise its math standards next spring, said Mary Knuck, a state director of standards.
Arizona likely won’t be the only state to consider the new report, as the math teachers council is highly influential among educators, said Ron Zambo, associate professor of education at Arizona State University.
“Almost any math textbook series for K-8 students . . . will reference the (council) and say it aligns with its recommendations,” he said. “A lot of people listen to them.”
Rubillo said the council also hopes that if states follow its recommendations, math education will have a national consistency it now lacks.
Gayle Householder, principal at Mesa’s Franklin East Elementary School, said the current vast array of teaching standards can pose a problem if the school does not create mandatory day-by-day lesson plans.
There’s always the danger that a teacher may gloss over a particular standard, she said.
“I used to teach sixth grade. I know that estimations wasn’t one of my favorite areas to teach,” she said “Do you think I spent a lot of time on it? No. But if it says you have to teach it Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings, you have no choice. You have to do it.”
Davis said she copes with the long list of standards by stretching them across subject areas, such as reading children a book that has a mathbased plot.
Michael Block, co-founder of the BASIS Charter School in Scottsdale, said his school uses Saxon, a math curriculum in which students get constant review, allowing them to learn lessons in greater depth.
BASIS, which teaches grades five through eight, does take a slightly narrower approach to math curriculum than many traditional public schools, he said.
“It might not be as broad as some other programs, but it’s quite deep,” Block said. “The amount of geometry we do is not the amount you get in other schools. We narrow the focus a bit.”
Instead, BASIS focuses on preparing students to complete calculus by 10th grade. Eileen Hauptman, a teacher at Scottsdale’s Zuni Elementary School, said the real challenge is not the vast array of standards to teach. Rather, it’s trying to teach math for both real-world applications and standardized tests.
“You want to teach them in a way that makes sense in their world, and to do critical thinking,” she said. “But you have to make sure they can show that quick recall when they’re . . . just picking an answer on a multiple-choice test.”