LINCOLN — The Common Core math standards are generally more rigorous than Nebraska's public school math standards, according to a study released Thursday.
State officials said, however, that the Nebraska standards contain nearly all the same concepts from kindergarten through eighth grade, and the key difference is the sequencing.
The results are likely to fuel debate on whether Nebraska should adopt the Common Core, though no one suggested that step at a meeting of the Nebraska Board of Education.
The Common Core standards introduce some math concepts to students at an earlier age than Nebraska does, according to the study by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.
The study, paid for by the Nebraska Department of Education, counted early introduction of a skill as an indicator of rigor.
The Common Core standards also contain a supplementary set of higher-level math skills not found in Nebraska's standards, which end at Algebra II.
Those “plus-standards” in the Common Core are designed to prepare high-achieving juniors and seniors on track for careers in science, technology and medicine.
Deb Romanek, director of mathematics for the Nebraska Department of Education, said that while the consultant scored the Common Core higher for rigor, she was not ready to conclude that those standards were better than Nebraska's. “The jury's still out,” Romanek said.
The study results, however, will prompt state officials to examine the Nebraska standards at every grade level for ways to improve them, she said.
In some cases, she said, Nebraska's standards introduce the same concepts found in the Common Core, but they are introduced in later grades and in greater depth.
Romanek said Nebraskans should be proud of their standards. Scores on the Nebraska State Accountability math test, which select grades of public school students take each year to measure their mastery of state standards, have gone up since testing began two years ago, she said.
Donlynn Rice, administrator of curriculum and instruction for the Nebraska Department of Education, said the Nebraska standards were written to establish a basic set of skills for all students.
The state math test tests only material through Algebra II, she said. Nebraska students routinely go beyond that, however, through higher-level coursework that's not a part of the state standards but offered by individual school districts.
The study, presented Thursday to the board of education, will help guide state officials as they embark on a periodic rewrite of math standards this year.
The Nebraska standards were approved in 2009. The Common Core were released in 2010. Both sets describe the skills and concepts students should know and learn in kindergarten through high school.
Although 46 states have adopted the Common Core math or language arts standards, or both, Nebraska has so far stuck with its own set, written by Nebraska educators. Iowa adopted the Common Core in 2010.
Next month, Nebraska state officials plan to convene professors from the University of Nebraska and state, private and community colleges to ask their opinion of the state's math and language arts standards.
Results of a similar McREL study last month found little difference between Nebraska's and the Common Core's language arts standards.
State officials hope to have a first draft of new language arts standards ready in January, and a math draft in March.
Romanek said the Common Core standards push some algebra and geometry concepts — which Nebraska typically teaches in high school — down into seventh and eighth grades.
That push-down occurs in the elementary grades as well.
For example, while Nebraska asks students to locate fractions on a number line in fourth grade, that's a third-grade skill in the Common Core.
However, Nebraska asks fourth-graders to add and subtract decimals to the hundredth place, but the Common Core waits till fifth grade.
The Common Core offers another extra feature not explicitly found in Nebraska's standards. The Common Core standards call on students to embody the characteristics of a good mathematician by learning a set of “mathematical practices.”
The eight practices include such things as attending to precision, reasoning abstractly, constructing viable arguments and critiquing the reasoning of others.
Romanek said that while not expressly written into Nebraska's standards, those practices are being taught in Nebraska classrooms.
The Common Core standards were based on a set of educational benchmarks developed by Achieve, a nonprofit group founded in 1996 by governors and business leaders.
Advocates, among them President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, say the standards are better aligned with college and work expectations and reflect what top-performing countries do.
Critics say they are untested and represent a federal power grab, because Obama has linked their adoption by the states to federal funding and waivers of No Child Left Behind.