We accept standards in sports...how about in quality math instruction?

posted Jul 29, 2013, 11:37 AM by allison coates
I have heard many parents and teachers echo the sentiment that standards, and using standards to choose a curriculum, is too restrictive. I've yet to meet a single person who felt that having standards for levels in sports was "restrictive"  for coaches. I've never even heard of a coach who felt that standards for player skills was a negative, either. Sure, some may quibble about which skill when, but never that someone should not prescribe a list of skills students need to have.

Generally, people agree that youth sports should teach fundamentals well in ages 8 - 13. Whether or not that child will play sports competitively in high school or beyond, competency in mastering these skills is a requirement for even the opportunity to play at the high school level. They agree as well that certain skills come first as building blocks for other skills. Parents seek out and join youth sports organizations with quality instruction programs and quality coaches. Nearly every one of those has a set of standards for their levels. Those standards are what the coaches are expected to know, and expected to instruct students so they master those standards before moving on. Parents don't typically *know* the list of skills being taught, or in what order, but they know what the results are.

Let's take skating as an example. 

There are two major skating orgs in the US, and nearly every rink here has a learn to skate program that corresponds to one or the other. At every International Skating Institute (ISI) skate school in the world, they have a beginning alpha-delta system, and then more for competitive programs, like freestyle or pairs or speed skating. To progress to the beta, you must complete alpha.  It doesn't matter how many times you've been to class, or your age, that's the standard for moving up a level. The teachers know to teach that--how, up to them, but those skills before progressing. You can't earn a delta badge without shooting the duck. 

Why do they bother with such rigid standards? Because e.g. you will not be able to do the freestyle one half flip if you can't do a one-foot turn (delta level). 

Math is not different in this way. To suceed at the abstraction of algebra, you need to be able to handle fractions. To handle fractions, you need to have mastered whole number arithmetic.

US Figure Skating Assoc. has a different list, levels 1-10, and some skills come at different times, emphasized in different ways. But again, a set of standards--this is what they teach at level 4 to go to 5, etc.

Their coaches are expected to teach these levels, in this order. They don't get to call themselves certified coaches if they deviate. They still have the freedom to figure how to teach these skills, and they make changes in their methods depending on their students. But their students need to be able to do a regimented set of skills to progress.

A parent can get a kid up on skates and around a rink, but unless that parent knows every supporting skill, and how to break them down, they aren't likely to get their child proper enough technique to support that one half flip.

Likewise, a homeschooling parent or a generalist teacher needs to know the supporting skills in math, and how to break them down to ensure proper mathematical technique.

Let's look at youth hockey.

USA Hockey is the sponsor of nearly every youth hockey program in the country. Their programs have coaches that must follow a prescribed curriculum (now called the American Development Model, ADM) with handbooks, DVDs and trainings. Inside that curriculum, which describes how every practice should be run, down to how many minutes per week and weeks the program should be, they also have standard for skills at every level.

Here's just their list of standards for individual hockey skills mites, youth 8 and under (mite):

Individual Hockey Skills:
Players must learn and master:
1. Skating: • edge controlling • ready position • forward start • forward stride • control stop (two-foot snowplow, one-foot
snowplow) • backward skating • backward stop • control turn • forward crossover 
2. Puck Control: • lateral dribble • forward-to-backward dribble • diagonal dribble • attacking the triangle • forehand shift • accelerating with the puck
3. Passing and Receiving: • forehand • backhand • receiving (stick) • eye contact 
4. Shooting: • wrist • backhand
5. Checking: • poke check • hook check • lift the stick check
6. Goalkeeping: • basic stance • parallel shuffle • lateral t-glide • forward and backward moves • stick save • body save • glove save

They also have standards in Knowledge, Goal Setting, Team Play, Nutrition, Fitness and Training, Injury Prevention, Sports Psychology, Character Development and Life Skills. And yes, they push up by age, even if not every skill is met because some skills will come with different physical and mental development. But kids who don't develop and complete this mastery on this track won't make it to Bantams.  By then, it all had to come together.

Martial arts, anyone? The belt system is a standards system. I'm sure there are proverbs explaining how the restrictions lead to freedom in each martial art.

I could find you lists of standards for youth skill development in tennis, golf, soccer, swimming, and more. Keeping the doors open to the possibility of playing these sports after 13 requires a specific set of fundamentals must have been mastered, year over year.

Being able to succeed in high school math requires training just as sports in 8th grade and beyond do. If you don't have the fundamentals down by 8th grade, you will never catch up. But math is harder as a subject, since it is so linear. Skip something, and you will not understand, and at some point, the struggle to stay afloat will be too much.

The coach or teacher is the most important element of the student's learning in these programs, bar none. Solid standards don't magically make great teachers. But good coaches and teachers know the skills they are trying to develop, know how they fit together year after year, and work on improving what they don't know. They teach 
the standards, and they don't make excuses that the standards are restrictive.

US Figure Skating standards:
ISI testing requirements:
Hockey skills handbook:

Common core state standards in math: