The principles for school mathematics address the overarching themes of equity, curriculum, teaching, learning, assessment and technology. (NCTM, 2000)
Equity: Excellence in mathematics education requires equity – high expectations, worthwhile opportunities, accommodation for differences, resources, and strong support for all students.
Curriculum: A coherent curriculum effectively organizes standards and mathematical ideas, focuses on important mathematics, and is well articulated within and across grades.
Teaching: Effective standards-aligned mathematics instruction is a complex endeavor that requires understanding what students know and need to learn, and then challenging and supporting them to learn it well. Effective teaching requires continually seeking improvement.
Learning: Conceptual understanding is an important component of proficiency. Students must learn mathematics with understanding, actively building new knowledge from experience and prior knowledge. Learning with understanding is essential to enable students to solve the new kinds of problems they will inevitably face in the future.
Assessment: Standards-aligned assessment, a routine part of ongoing classroom activity, should enhance students' learning and inform instructional decisions.
Technology: Technology, not to be used as a replacement for basic understandings and intuitions, is an essential tool in teaching and learning mathematics; it influences the mathematics that is taught, supports visualization, facilitates organizing and analyzing data, and offers efficient computation.
Intent and Spirit of the Mathematics Standards
For more than a decade, research studies of mathematics education in high-performing countries have concluded that mathematics education in the United States must become substantially more focused and coherent in order to improve mathematics achievement in this country. To deliver on this promise, the mathematics standards are designed to address the problem of a curriculum that is "a mile wide and an inch deep."
The math standards provide clarity and specificity rather than broad general statements. The standards draw on the most important international models for mathematical practice, as well as research. They endeavor to follow the design envisioned by William Schmidt and Richard Houang (2002), by not only stressing conceptual understanding of key ideas, but also by continually returning to organizing principles (coherence) such as place value and the laws of arithmetic to structure those ideas.
In addition, the "sequence of topics and performances" that is outlined in a body of math standards must respect what is already known about how students learn. As Confrey (2007) points out, developing "sequenced obstacles and challenges for students…absent the insights about meaning that derive from careful study of learning, would be unfortunate and unwise." Therefore, the development of the standards began with research-based learning progressions detailing what is known today about how students' mathematical knowledge, skill, and understanding develop over time. The knowledge and skills students need to be prepared for mathematics in college, career, and life are woven throughout the mathematics standards.