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Understanding Common Core Math Assessments


By Vicki Little

By now you have seen at least one meme or Facebook rant about Common Core math, usually about how the answer may be right, but the problem will be counted as incorrect anyway. There are jokes about how parents can’t even understand the directions on their children’s homework — much less help their children solve the problems. Common Core has gotten a bad rap, and to be fair, this is rightly so. The first waves of test results from The Common Core MAP test (Measures of Academic Progress) were less than positive in New York (one of the first states to adopt the new standards). While the second set of results were a bit better (up 5%), they revealed that only slightly more than one-third of students are proficient in math. Short of homeschooling our children, what can parents do to fix the problem?

Unfortunately, we are still learning as we go, and how schools deal with test results vary so widely that there isn’t a universal answer. But every parent should be trying to understand the test and asking their school the hard questions. Being advocates for our children is the best thing we can do at this point.

Common Core Standards were adopted in an effort to make sure students across the country are meeting one set of benchmark standards. The goal sounds promising: What could possibly be wrong with making sure kids are succeeding? But the variables in the effort are cause for concern. Many say that standards are ridiculously high — and also very confusing. Teachers are spending so much time “teaching to the test” that students who already understand the skills are getting bored, while others are getting frustrated trying to learn different concepts.

About the test

The Common Core MAP test is administered to students three to four times a year, and one of the controversies is whether children should be spending this much time taking standardized tests? Ideally, teachers can analyze the results and adjust learning plans as needed. The developers of the test (NWEA) claim that the tests can determine which students are at, below, or above their grade level. They also claim the test can predict college readiness for any student higher than 5th grade.

The test is computerized and automatically adjusts the questions’ level of difficulty based on the answers. As students answer questions correctly, the questions get harder. If the student misses a question, the answers get easier. The test is designed to test if the student thinks logically and can make reasonable predictions — and this is where the accurate answer is often wrong. For example:


Johnny read 47 pages of a book on Monday and 112 pages on Tuesday. Is 65 pages a reasonable answer for how many more pages Johnny read on Tuesday than on Monday? Explain your answer.


If your child says “yes” and then explains the answer by saying 114-47=65, this would be counted as incorrect. The correct answer is 110-50=60. This shows that your child is learning to add and subtract based on the Common Core curriculum.

What it means for your child

The results will tell you and the school how your child is performing based on the Common Core benchmarks. In reality, these benchmarks are a moving target, and children learn differently. Ideally teachers would focus on getting each child to where he or she needs to be, but that is nearly impossible. Instead, classwork is focused on what the majority of students need to improve on, meaning some kids are getting bored (which leads to behavior problems and decreased performance) and some kids are struggling to keep up.

Test results are called RIT (Rausch Interval Unit) scores. The first few scores form a starting point. Then new scores illustrate academic growth over time. The RIT scores are similar to growth charts you’d see at the pediatrician, where points follow along a curve, and you are given your child’s height/weight percentages. With the RIT score, there is a curve that shows where the majority of students fall in a particular subject, and your child’s point can fall anywhere around that. If your child falls off the curve, the school will use this information, along with teacher feedback, to determine what steps are needed to get your child performing on track. Most teachers form lesson plans based on where the majority falls, but those who are slightly above the curve will have to review what they already know, and those below the curve may end up lost because they never mastered the fundamentals.

How you can help your child

Make sure that you are receiving all of your child’s test scores, so that you can track his or her progress. Watch for signs that your child is getting frustrated or bored, and keep track of daily work. Create a portfolio of classwork, test scores, and notes on any issues. With benchmarks so new, it is hard to determine if your student is progressing on pace, but he or she should be testing a year ahead from where they started. So if your child performed at the 3rd-grade benchmark in 2nd grade, he or she should be at the 4th-grade benchmark in 3rd grade. Similarly, if a student tests at 1st grade levels in 2nd grade, he or she should be at least at the 2nd-grade level in the 3rd grade. Ideally, a student who is behind would gain momentum and start to catch up to their grade level. Because the benchmarks and the curve changes, the MAP score itself is not a good indication of your child’s growth over multiple years.

If you have concerns, your first step should be to meet with the teacher. If that does not work, go to the administrator or further up the ladder, if needed. Make sure you get everything in writing so there is no miscommunication. Email is a great way to do this. After a meeting, you can simply email the teacher or administrator a “thank you, ” then review everything you discussed. Nobody knows your children better than you, so don’t be afraid to speak up to make sure they get what they need from their education.

You can learn more about Common Core and the standardized tests at the following links:

Common Core math standards

MAP assessments

National Education Association

Northwest Evaluation Association


Vicki Little is a work-at-home mom with two young kids. A Colorado native, she is the Publisher and Editor of Macaroni Kid Aurora and Downtown Denver. When she isn’t writing or trying to keep up with her kids she can be found volunteering, reading, or enjoying a bottle of wine with friends.

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  1. LeAnn Weaver
    February 17, 2016 @ 8:29 am

    I hope that the sum of 2 and 3 is 5 by core standards (the robot check above). Why don’t you explain the common core standard with the example in the article? I’m a parent of older children who are not subjected to common core, so I don’t get it. thanks!


  2. Rick
    February 23, 2016 @ 1:53 pm

    Let’s see, it’s OK to estimate, right?


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