Mathematics curriculum must address ‘spectacular’ student diversity

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Monday, 16 Aug 2010

For immediate release Monday 16 August 2010

Mathematics curriculum must address ‘spectacular’ student diversity

A leading American expert in mathematics education will tell delegates to a Melbourne conference on Monday that curriculum standards set for students are written as an  ‘immaculate progression’ but in reality students arrive each day with a spectacular variety of mathematical biographies. More consideration must be given to the diversity among students. 

Philip Daro, one of three leading the writing of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in Mathematics in the United States is visiting Australia to deliver a keynote address to the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) annual conference. Each state in the U.S. has had its own standards until now. The CCSS have been adopted by over 30 states.

Daro argues that the process of developing curriculum content standards for school mathematics is complicated by the fact that they need simultaneously to take account of:

  • research evidence about the nature of mathematics learning, and in particular, the sequence in which students typically develop mathematical understandings;
  • policy decisions about the mathematics that all students should be learning as a matter of priority; and
  • the ‘spectacular diversity’ of students’ levels of mathematics achievement in any given year of school.

“If curriculum content standards do not take all three of these factors into account, then they can be seriously at odds with what happens in classrooms,” Daro says.

“For example, some standards fail to recognise the great diversity in students’ levels of mathematics achievement in any given year of school.  They are written as though students have learned everything (100%) in the standards for the preceding grades.

“This assumption of an ‘immaculate progression,’ is a wild fiction in any real classroom.”

According to Daro teachers need tools that illuminate rather than obscure the varying individual learning trajectories that students are on.

Rather than portraying where students ‘can’ or ‘should’ be at a given point in time, standards should ‘map’ stations through which students are led in their mathematics learning, from wherever they start.

Philip Daro was a member of the lead writing team for the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics. He has directed, advised and consulted to a range of mathematics education projects.

ACER Research Conference 2010, Teaching mathematics? Make it count, takes place in Melbourne from 16-17 at Crown Conference Centre. Further information on the conference is available from


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Louise Reynolds, ACER Corporate Communications
Phone: (03) 9277 5582 or 0419 340 058