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The Busy Teacher’s Guide to Understanding the Math Curriculum Alignment

When I ask teachers what is the one thing that they struggle with when it comes to math intervention, most respond with not having enough time. This response is no surprise because one thing I do know is, teachers are busy! 

Our days are filled with data digs, grading papers, parent phone calls, and everything else that goes with teaching. What teacher really has the time to figure out how to use vertical alignment.

If you’re that math teacher who works with students who are below grade level then this article was written for you.

Curriculum Alignment

Before gaps can be closed, the first thing that any of you  MUST do is make a consistent effort to learn the curriculum for the grade level that you are teaching. The curriculum you teach for your grade level is aligned to your school district’s and state’s academic standards.

Vertical and horizontal are the main forms of vertical alignment. A vertically aligned curriculum is scaffolded; the information students learned in a previous course or grade prepares them for advanced grades and challenging work. The vertical alignment is often used during Tier 2 instruction to accelerate learning and close achievement gaps.

On the other hand, a curriculum that is horizontally aligned means that the same material is being taught across different classrooms at a given grade level. Teachers can use the horizontal alignment to deepen the learning for their students’ by connecting concepts across math strands like geometry and number and operations.

Student Expectations

Different states call student expectations different things. Some may call them standards or grade level expectations. Texas calls them TEKS which stands for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.

The student expectations are what your students should learn at that grade level. Based on what I know, these expectations don’t vary greatly from state to state. There may be a few skills that may be different but it won’t be a whole lot.

If you’re looking for test practice items going to other states’ websites won’t hurt.

Vertical Alignment and Small Group Instruction

If you’ve ever worked with a student who needed Tier 2 Math intervention you know that all of the prerequisite skills become the focal point. Attempting to close achievement gaps is a daunting task because it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack. As the Math Interventionist, this my struggle every time I plan a new lesson. 

I rely heavily on the vertical alignment because it’s like a compass. It points me in the right direction so that I can identify the missing skills that my students need to master the Algebra I content. The grade level curriculum cannot be used to close achievement gaps because it only focuses on skills and concepts needed for that specific grade level.

Before you begin small group instruction, the vertical alignment for the grade level concept that you are targeting should be identified. This will give you a starting point for your instruction and goal.

Preparing Students for Standardized Tests

The curriculum alignment should be your go to for test preparation not test preparation material or books. The vertical and horizontal alignments provide a road-map for the rigor of the student expectations. 

For example, the fifth grade student expectation below says that students should be able to divide decimals using strategies, algorithms, and the standard algorithm.

5.3(G) solve for quotients of decimals to the hundredths, up to four-digit dividends and two-digit whole number divisors, using strategies and algorithms, including the standard algorithm

Test prep books provide the practice with the student expectations but they don’t determine the rigor at which you are supposed to teach the content.

Trying to understand the curriculum alignment for your grade level can be confusing at first. If you make a conscious effort to learn the curriculum for your grade level you’ll make your lesson planning a whole lot easier.

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1 thought on “The Busy Teacher’s Guide to Understanding the Math Curriculum Alignment”

  1. I agree with you…alignment is key! With the need to fill in the gaps students have while continuing with current skills, we must be strategic, and providing small group instruction can be quite beneficial.

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