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Making it count ; Early childhood math standards will bolster overall performance

The adoption by the State Board of Regents of amendments to national standards in English, language arts and mathematics at all levels holds promise for the development of young minds.

These amendments, made to national Common Core Standards on prekindergarten education, detail explicit outcomes and standards for different categories of early childhood that are now a matter of policy.

As reported in The News, the Board of Regents in July adopted the national Common Core Standards, which consist of more rigorous standards that most states have adopted, and then supplemented them with standards specific to New York.

They include higher standards for math in kindergarten and first grade, with another requiring students be taught how to better interpret literature from a wide variety of genres and a spectrum of American and world cultures. These changes will be implemented over the next three years.

Significantly, the Regents also added the Common Core Standards to the prekindergarten curriculum in New York. This has to do with learning at the earliest stages when it makes an imprint. These were not included in the national standards.

Regent Robert M. Bennett of Tonawanda has long been an advocate of adopting prekindergarten standards. He recently made the valid point that the brain research is so conclusive that even pre-K may be late for starting children's education.

Children taught by a qualified early childhood teacher will make extraordinary progress and, he said, the reverse is true if nothing is done until first or second grade: It is extremely difficult to make up for the lost time.

The effort centers on English and mathematics and is still focused on certified teachers in early childhood and the value of play. It has nothing to do with children sitting in a classroom listening to a math lecture. Indeed, there are a number of ways to learn mathematics concepts and some of the leading researchers in the country are right here in our community, at the University at Buffalo.

SUNY Distinguished Professor Douglas H. Clements and his wife, Julie Sarama, a professor of learning and instruction, were both recently featured in a New York Times article on educating young minds.

Children as young as 3 and 4 need a strong start in mathematics. That's especially true for all but the highest performing children. Those who are below the top level perform significantly worse than the children at the top because they haven't had the resources and opportunity to learn, said Clements, one of the writers on the national math advisory panel under former President George W. Bush and an author of the Common Core Standards.

All of the research says about the same thing: Early math is an unusually strong and a persistent predictor of later mathematics. In other words, one can take entering kindergartners' mathematics achievement scores and predict their mathematics achievement later, even into high school, Clements said.

Early mathematics skills were not only good predictors of later elementary mathematics achievement but also later reading and overall academic achievement. Mathematics is a real cognitive fundamental that is ignored or de-emphasized at the children's peril.

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