While many states are focusing on implementing the Common Core State Standards, many parents and students are confused about why the curriculum matters so much. After all, as long as students are learning how to read, write, compute, and think, aren’t they being prepared for college and careers? The answer is no!

The report, Large-Scale Evaluations of Curricular Effectiveness: The Case of Elementary Mathematics in Indiana, notes the very different learning outcomes experienced by students in elementary schools using different mathematics curricula. The study noted that 56 percent of fourth graders do math problems from their textbooks every day during class. Even this is a cause for alarm—why are only half of our students working math problems daily? With over 70 different curriculum alternatives, it stands to reason that students are largely learning what is in the textbooks. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics note: “If a topic is not included in the curriculum materials, there is a good chance that teachers will not cover it.”

The study revealed differences in student performance on state testing in grades 3, 6, 8, and 10, based on the math curriculum adopted by their respective schools. According to theACT Report: The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2012 for Indiana, 58 percent of Indiana’s students demonstrated college readiness in Mathematics compared to only 46 percent nationally. Although better than the national average, with only slightly more than half of Indiana’s students demonstrating college readiness in mathematics by 12th grade, parents and students should compare the sample ACT math problems against the type of problems students are being taught in their current curriculum.

Two questions should guide parents and students in taking ownership of student learning:

  1. What are students being taught in the current curriculum?
  2. What will students be expected to know to be ready for college?

Based on your school’s curriculum, there may be a huge gap between what students are being taught and what they will be expected to know to be successful in college. Parents and students should also be interested in knowing there are many colleges and universities that offer students full academic scholarships based on a student’s GPA and ACT or SAT scores. Ensuring that your school’s curriculum is effectively preparing students to perform well on the SAT or ACT can result in the opportunity for students to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in academic scholarships.