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Navigating Changes: A Closer Look at New Jersey’s Revised Mathematics Standards

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Picture this: You’re leading a vast corporation, managing numerous branches across the state of New Jersey. One day, you discover a new, more efficient way of carrying out a certain process. Maybe this innovation is sparked by a finding in research, or perhaps a shift in market dynamics. Either way, you decide it’s time to implement this change across your entire company. How would you do it?

You’d likely create a new company-wide policy, a ‘rule of the game’ that everyone adheres to. You’d communicate this change clearly, ensuring everyone in your company – from top-level executives to new hires – understands and follows this new procedure.

Now, swap the corporation with the New Jersey school system, and the company procedure with the math standards’ curriculum. In essence, that’s what changes in the curriculum are all about – they are the new ‘rules of the game,’ designed to shape and guide the future of math education statewide.

For administrators and teachers, understanding these changes isn’t just about adhering to new rules. It’s about understanding why these changes were made, how they will affect daily teaching and learning, and what steps to take to adapt effectively.

Drawing from my experience as a teacher, a member of the learning department at Innovamat, a researcher and a professor of math education at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, I’ve worked closely with educators from around the globe, visiting and learning from tens of schools worldwide, including the United States.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen how changes in curricular policies might be challenging. But here’s the good news: we are here, map in hand, ready to navigate this journey with you. These shifts in policy are opportunities for us to collectively enrich the educational landscape and foster an engaging, and empowering math learning experience for our students.

So, ready to dive into these changes together? Let’s go!

Four Major Changes for 2023

According to the Division of Teaching and Learning of the New Jersey Department of Education (2022), four expert committees engaged in extensive discussions, literature scans, and analysis of recent research before proposing any change. They examined the successes and obstacles in implementing the current standards, considered the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on student performance, and formulated recommendations based on these insights.

Those recommendations for change (to be approved this summer 2023) affect various content standards, but they can be summarized in four main strands:

1. Decoupling ‘Measurement and Data’

What’s it about?

We can observe that the K-5 ‘Measurement and Data’ domain has been split into separate ‘Measurement’ and ‘Data Literacy’ domains:

Nj Standards 1

Examples of new Data Literacy Standards (DL) from grades 2-5:

2.DL.A.1 Understand that people collect data to answer questions. Understand that data can vary.

5.DL.A.3 Collect and clean data to be analyzable (e.g., make sure each entry is formatted correctly, deal with missing or incomplete data).

Also, additional standards have been designated as ‘plus’ to guide students towards data science. These standards, which extend the existing plus (+) standards, focus on data literacy to help students in formulating and answering data-based questions.

What’s our view?

When both domains were bundled together, it often led to an overshadowing of ‘Data Literacy’ by the more prominent ‘Measurement’ lessons. This unintended bias restricted students’ exposure to key statistical concepts at a young age. By splitting them, we go back to the original content blocks division: teachers can more easily devote specific tasks to understanding the measurement process and units, while devoting other tasks along the year to emphasize the need for students to ask questions, analyze statistical data, and understand its implications from an early age. In our experience, such a foundation will prepare students for statistics, probability standards in middle grades, and high school courses like statistics or data science.

What could you do?

As an administrator, you could start by ensuring your teaching staff is equipped to handle the new emphasis on ‘Measurement’ and ‘Data Literacy’. Providing effective training on statistics, a traditionally weaker area for many teachers, could be a good approach. The goal is to develop their capacity to implement activities that allow students to work with statistics independently of the measurement context, and not only in the last weeks before summer but throughout the whole academic year. Furthermore, it’s equally important to strengthen the teachers’ knowledge of measurement estimation, use of units, and handling measuring tools.

2. Introducing Monetary Concepts Earlier

What’s it about?

New standards have been established in early elementary grades to build a progression towards understanding money-related word problems.

Examples of new standards addressing money are in grades K-1:

K.M.B.3 Understand that certain objects are coins and dollars, and that coins and dollars represent money. Identify the values of all U.S. coins and the one-dollar bill.

1.M.C.4 Know the comparative values of coins and all dollars (e.g., a dime is of greater value than a nickel). Use appropriate notation (e.g., 69¢, $10).

What’s our view?

In the current standards, students are required to solve word problems involving money, but without a thorough understanding of the comparative values of coins and dollar bills. It’s crucial to remember that for young students, money should not just be an abstract concept but a tangible means of understanding value, transaction, and basic economics. This revision is about making sure that students comprehend the fundamental aspects of money—the values of coins and dollar bills—before they encounter word problems within a monetary context.

Furthermore, this modification can enhance students’ financial literacy from an early age—an increasingly important skill in our modern world. It may encourage students to interact with money in a thoughtful and informed manner, preparing them for real-world financial scenarios they will encounter in their adult lives. Thus, this change is not only academically beneficial, but also crucial for students’ personal development.

What could you do?

You could start by ensuring that everyone in your school, specially in the early grades of elementary education, is aware of this change. This may involve finding activities or lessons that expose students to experimental scenarios involving money, such as shopping or savings. Such practical experiences, combined with adequate classroom instruction, will help students grasp the concept of money, making it easier for them to tackle word problems involving monetary transactions later on.

3. Redefining Fluency

What’s it about?

The term ‘fluency’ has been replaced throughout the standards, because it seemed to promote speed as a key value itself. Now, the standards refer to ‘accuracy and efficiency’ instead.

Examples of standards on fluency, in grades K-7:

K.OA.A.5 Demonstrate accuracy and efficiency fluency for addition and subtraction within 5.

5.NBT.B.5. With accuracy and efficiency fluency, multiply multi-digit whole numbers using the standard algorithm.

What’s our view?

This revision is not about putting fluency aside. In fact, math fluency was one of the main topics at the last annual conference of the NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics). Fluency, according to Bay-Williams and SanGiovanni (2021; 2022), is about accuracy (i.e., getting the right answer), efficiency (i.e., with an appropriate strategy, in a reasonable amount of time) and flexibility (i.e., adapting and applying known strategies to a new context).

This revision in the standards tries to emphasize that accuracy and efficiency, as opposed to speed, are the most essential aspects of fluency. Therefore, we expect teachers to focus their students more on selecting the right strategy and operating with precision rather than just executing steps quickly. Either way, it is important to keep in mind that ‘efficiency’, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as ‘the quality of doing something well with no waste of time or money’, still implies speed somehow. Otherwise, we cannot talk about ‘being mathematically fluent’.

What could you do?

As an administrator, you should focus on your teaching staff’s interpretation of ‘fluency’. You could provide conversation opportunities to discuss it, and agree on a definition that includes accuracy, efficiency, and flexibility, rather than just speed.

Encourage teachers to implement activities and exercises that emphasize precision and the correct selection of strategies, rather than solely focusing on quick calculation. This may include brainstorming sessions, sharing teaching methods that have been successful in improving accuracy and efficiency among students, and providing resources to achieve this goal. This way, we cultivate mathematical fluency that is robust and versatile, preparing students for more complex mathematical tasks in the future.

Finally, consider reaching out to parents and families. They play a vital role in a child’s education, and their understanding of mathematical ability is usually biased towards just calculating quickly. Clear communication about why fluency is not just about speed can ensure a united front in this endeavor.

4. Working with Radicals Earlier

What’s it about?

Middle school standards now include foundational work with radicals (i.e., square roots), filling a significant gap on the previous ones.

Example of a new substandard on radicals, in grade 8:

5.NBT.B.5. Use square root and cube root symbols to represent solutions to equations of the form x2 = p and x3 = p, where p is a positive rational number.

  1. Evaluate square roots of small perfect squares and cube roots of small perfect cubes. Know that √2 is irrational.
  2. Simplify numerical radicals, limiting to square roots (i.e., nonperfect squares). For example, simplify √8 to 2√2.

What’s our view?

Similarly to money, introducing the simplification of radicals at an earlier stage allows students to develop a deeper understanding of what these symbols mean and how they are used in mathematics. This early exposure is crucial, since it sets the stage for tackling more complex algebraic expressions in high school, where radicals play a significant role. Powers and radicals play a significant role in our everyday lives, since they appear in scenarios as varied as calculating mortgage interest rates, understanding statistical data in weather predictions, estimating distances on travel routes, or even in appreciating the magnitude of seismic activities. By developing a firm grasp of radicals early on, we equip our students to better understand and navigate both their future academic challenges and the mathematical aspects of their daily lives.

What could you do?

Radicals can be challenging for teachers that are not used to dealing with them in class. As an educational leader, ensure they incorporate activities that include visual models and real-world applications of radicals. Students should have the opportunity to grasp these fundamental ideas in an interactive, hands-on way.

What These Changes Mean for You

Before implementing anything, it is important to remember that we must wait for the curriculum designers to confirm all these changes, which is expected to occur later this summer 2023. Presumably, most of them will be ratified, as they reflect a refinement of concepts rather than drastic paradigm shifts.

In any case, as teachers and administrators, the adaptation to these new standards will require a keen understanding of their implications, as we have discussed.

We believe these changes, though perhaps initially challenging to navigate, can be viewed as largely positive developments. They reinforce the shift towards a deeper conceptual understanding of mathematics (CCSS, 2010), which is fundamental for students’ overall knowledge and their capacity to apply mathematical principles in practical and real-life scenarios.

However, you will likely face some challenges: adapting resources, lesson plans, and teaching methods to new standards can be an overwhelming task. What’s more, these changes demand not just a curriculum adjustment, but a deeper pedagogical transformation.

At Innovamat, we understand these challenges and are here to support this necessary transition. We have been working with districts across the state, to implement these new standards and empower teachers to be effective facilitators of this deeper mathematical understanding.

If you are interested in finding out how we can support you and your district in this transition, we will be discussing the work we are doing in an upcoming webinar. We encourage you to embrace this opportunity to take part in the future of mathematics education, ensuring that our students are given the best possible foundation to become fluent and confident mathematical thinkers, ready to navigate the challenges of the future.

Click here to sign up for it!

  • Albert Vilalta

    Trained Engineer and a vocational Mathematics Professor. Currently he is a professor in the Education department of the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and is finishing a doctorate in Mathematics Education. He combines his university roles with teacher trainings and, above all, his investigation, communication and conceptualization responsibilities in the education department of Innovamat.

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