Where a Wrong Answer Can be Right and the Right Answer Can Be Wrong

Published December 6, 2015

Another Common Core-aligned math problem is going viral. This time a 3rd grade math problem was marked as incorrect even though the student found the correct answer. On the other hand, submissions with the wrong answer have been counted right.

The question asked the student to find the result of 5 multiplied by 3, using the “repeated addition strategy.” The student wrote “5+5+5” and correctly found the answer to be 15. Apparently, this strategy didn’t fit with the Common Core-established method for teaching multiplication, so the teacher punished the student for getting the right answer in a way not prescribed.

In problem number 2, the student was asked to solve 4 multiplied by 6. The child created an array with four columns of ones and six rows of ones. With this array, the student provided the correct answer of 24. The teacher again punished the student for getting the right answer in a different manner, wanting six columns of ones and four rows of ones.

NBC Chicago reported, “The new math methods are in response to the Common Core States Standards Initiative launched in 2009. It focuses on more critical thinking and less on memorization.”

That report is inaccurate. First, these math methods have been around for more than two decades, under names such as New Math, Fuzzy Math, Everyday Math, and Chicago Math. Second, Common Core was created before 2009, as its own supporters claim. Third, the critical thinking talking point is an excuse to prevent accountability for teaching methods and results. This talking point also defies logic because, as this math problem shows, many Common Core teachers want only one method to be taught for calculating the correct answer, regardless of the critical thinking utilized by the student. When a student uses his or her own strategy to come to the right answer, isn’t that an example of the kind of “critical thinking” Common Core is supposed to be promoting?

In contrast to how this math problem was correct yet marked incorrect, Grayslake District 46 Curriculum Director Amanda August told parents in 2013, “But even under the new Common Core, even if [students] said, ‘3×4 was 11,’ if they were able to explain their reasoning and explain how they came up with their answer, really in words and oral explanations, and they showed it in a picture but they just got the final answer wrong, we’re more focused on the how and the why.”

The recently released Nation’s Report Card scores, officially called the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), show an across-the-board decrease in math test scores. This was the first score drop in 25 years. Breaking down the data by Common Core participation and Common Core testing consortia shows a correlation between math test scores and Common Core states; scores declined by 0.5 percent more in the Common Core states. These are the first NAEP scores released since Common Core was fully implemented, and it will be two more years before the next set of NAEP scores are released and potential correlations examined.

There are already calls to align NAEP to Common Core. Aligning NAEP would prevent the independent testing of education quality, and it would foster a much higher propensity of teaching to the test and the potential for even greater test cheating scandals than those that occurred in Alabama, California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington DC over the past several years.

The math techniques now associated with Common Core-aligned math are solidly entrenched in many public education systems across the nation, even though in 2006 the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics called for an end to these techniques and a return to teaching the basics, i.e. direct instruction and memorization of basic facts. These basics provide a solid foundation for understanding, learning, and building future math concepts. Teachers who use Common Core-aligned math are similar to those who attempt to build a house without a foundation; the house is destined to crumble.

One other question no one seems to be asking about this problem is this: Why are teachers using Common Core math working on math problems such as “5×3” in a 3rd grade class? Multiplication should have already been started, at a minimum, in 2nd grade, with the concept being introduced at the end of 1st grade.

Here’s all you need to know about Common Core-aligned math: It’s a system where a student’s wrong answer can be “right” and a right answer can be “wrong.” It doesn’t take much critical thinking to realize Common Core-aligned math is a disaster.

[Originally published at Townhall]