Common Core math questions / difficulty

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Valerie Strauss quotes a litany of complaints from New York teacher Ralph Ratto’s blog post, “Today was the first day I was ever ashamed to be a teacher,” concerning the testing associated with Common Core standards.

Obviously there’s a great deal of debate to be had around the wisdom and value of Common Core.

Here, in GQ, I don’t want to delve into any of that debate. But a single sentence of Mr. Ratto’s description seems to advance a factual, testable claim:

Setting aside ‘valiantly,’ is it factually true that there are math questions on the New York State Common Core assessments, given to ten-year-old students, that most adults could not answer? That seems like hyperbole to me. But I don’t have any evidence one way or the other.

Well, on one hand, whether or not an adult can answer it is not an absolute yeardstick, either! I know some middle class adults of middle of the road education who are STILL befuddled by ratios, for one. They are simply not going to be math savvy, OTOH, my 2nd grader has a natural affinity for math. I see it in him already reasoning things out above his level and being correct. And, his 2nd grade common core assignments are simply…STUPID! They are not teaching math. They now have to write justification for why 2 + 2 = 4. Ridiculous!

Note that, if anyone wants to discuss, debate, or ask about Common Core in general, we have a couple of recent threads for that: the GD thread What’s so bad about Common Core? and the GQ thread Common Core distributing PETA pamphlets?

Probably true. Plenty of adults can’t do basic algebra, or construct even a simple proof. Which is all the more reason why we need to improve math education. Ensuring that the next generation of adults can’t do those problems, either, isn’t doing anyone any favors.

See for yourself.


If you are an adult and can’t answer those questions, you have failed at life.

I’m not quite sure of that. I’m a math geek, and I got all 8 right, but I was guessing at #8 because I wasn’t quite clear what they meant by ‘range.’ I do agree that they’re not incredibly hard if you’re aware of the concepts being tested.

Range is a mathematical word with a very precise definition when it comes to dealing with data sets. It’s a perfectly valid question.

Not picking on you, just pointing out that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the question.

Link to the Common Core Math Standards [PDF]:

10 years old would be about 5th grade, so the standards require a 5th grader to be able to (starting at pg. 33)…

  • Add and subtract of fractions with both like and unlike denominators

  • Add and subtract of decimals to the hundredth place

  • Understand of how division in base ten works

  • Understand the relationship between decimals and fractions

  • Add, subtract, divide, multiply multi-digit numbers

  • Understand measurement of volume as units of measurement filling a 3-D space, able to select appropriate units, strategies, and tools for measuring volumes

  • Find volumes of 3-D rectangular prisms

  • Convert like measurement units within a given measurement system

  • Write simple expressions involving paretheses, brackets, or braces
    … there’s more there, but I don’t see anything that looks out of the line for 5th grade, and most of it is similar to 5th grade standards from years ago that I’ve seen.

Put me down as not understanding the hate for Common Core.

I hope you meant “to the hundredths place.” :slight_smile: Although, theoretically, if you can do one you can do the other; it just takes a lot longer.

Agreed. Billy basic, as we used to say.

Your verison is more correct than mine :wink: … than my version, even.

If you had a set with infinitely many 12s and one 4 then it would have a range of 8, a mean of 12 and would include 4.

only if you think 12 = 11.999999999999999999999999999999999999999 but that is another thread.

12 ≠ 11.999999999999999999999999999999999999999. But 12 = 11.999…

My fifth grader just came home with math homework that stumped me. I graduated college with a degree in Math and Computer Science. Here is the problem:

“Use models to divide. Show all of your work.”

Then it has the problem itself: “5 ÷ 1/8” (as in, five divided by one-eighth)

Then it has five empty boxes, about half an inch on the side.


On edit: after googling, I found what the teachers are doing:

May I say that this is the most screwed up method of teaching simple math that I have seen.

Here ya go Terr:

You’re supposed to divide each box into 8ths and then count the small boxes, I think. Apparently inverting and multiplying is out these days.

Exactly. This is nuts.

I dunno, makes plenty of sense to me. Of course, my degree is only in Computer Science, but I did get a master’s…

No seriously, this is just trying to tie abstract division to a real world concept. It’s like those word problems people complain about - they’re making it easy on you, why are you complaining! They could have easily said “You have 5 pies. You divide the pies into 1/8s. How many pieces of pie are there”?

I can’t access the site you linked to, but I assume you’re supposed to divide the boxes into eight sections, and then add the number of sections together.

This seems pretty intuitive to me.