Students as young as kindergarteners would be required to learn more math skills under new standards for New York's public schools to be in place by the coming school year.
The state Board of Regents on Tuesday approved changes in the statewide curriculum and testing to enforce the requirements, which include the higher standard for math in kindergarten and first grade.
Another will require students to be taught how to better interpret literature from a wide variety of genres and a spectrum of American and world cultures.
The board approved the curriculum changes for most grades after six months of research and discussion with more than 800 teachers and experts.
"This work has been shared by a great many of our stakeholders and will involve countless more of them as we continue to create the future of public education in New York State using the standards approved today along with the curriculum and assessment we will put in place over the next three years," Education Commissioner David M. Steiner said.
"We are fully engaged in developing and supporting great teachers and leaders, in building a powerful and agile student data system and in implementing aggressive and bold strategies to turn around our lowest-achieving schools," said John King, senior deputy education commissioner. "This is a remarkable time to be associated with education in New York State."
The Board of Regents in July adopted the national Common Core Standards, more rigorous standards that most states have adopted. States that adopt the Common Core Standards may supplement them with standards specific to that state, which is what the Board of Regents did this week.
The Board of Regents also adopted prekindergarten standards, which were not included in the national standards.
"The biggest piece for us as a state is that now we will have prekindergarten standards," said Mary K. Lavin, principal of the Early Childhood Center at Windermere Elementary School in Amherst.
"For a long time we were good at nurturing children [in prekindergarten]. Now we are stressing that as well as those emotional competencies, we also have to nurture the academic competencies. This will increase the rigor," said Lavin, who is president of the New York State Prekindergarten Administrators Association.
Regent Robert M. Bennett said he has been an advocate of adopting prekindergarten standards for about 20 years.
"Nobody can argue that those brains can absorb a lot of information," said Bennett. "It's also a great dropout prevention program. The reason some kids don't stay in school is because either they're bored or they didn't have a great start."
The state this week also made some changes to the national Common Core math and ELA standards.
The new kindergarten math standard will build on the instruction of basic math and counting concepts. The new standard will seek to develop understanding of ordinal numbers -- first, second, third, etc., recognize and identify coins and use other methods that had been taught in later grades.
No new math standards were recommended for second through 12th grades.
New literature standards across most grades will seek to teach students to respond to literature "by employing knowledge of literary language, textual features, and forms to read and comprehend, reflect upon, and interpret literary texts from a variety of genres and a wide spectrum of American and world cultures."
"The biggest change [in English language arts] is that we added things that help our children respond to literature in a cultural context," Lavin said. "Most of them are providing opportunities for students to interpret and comprehend from other perspectives, from cultural perspectives. This is really appropriate because New York State is such a multicultural state."
The Common Core Standards are generally seen as more rigorous than the state standards they will be replacing in most places, including New York.
"With the adoption of the New York State Common Core Standards as part of the Common Core Standards, we will begin to have a scope and sequence that supports an intellectually rich curriculum with embedded assessments," said Folasade Oladele, deputy superintendent in Buffalo. "The standards provide an elevated view of what needs to happen in our school classrooms."
The state expects that classroom instruction in 2012-13 will be fully aligned with the new standards.