K-12 Math in North Carolina

K-12 math in North Carolina

Public education has largely been a local matter for school boards and states as the quality of a community’s schools is central to any family’s aspirations. North Carolina is ranked number 15 for Pre-K to Grade 12 education, and number 7 for post-secondary education. Within the North Carolina Standard Course of Study (NCSCOS), there are mathematical content standards and the Standards for Mathematical Practice (SMPs). The content standards provide a clear focus of math education that must be mastered at the K-8 level.


K-8 Math Topics


Kindergarten Mathematics

  • Know number names
  • Know the count sequence
  • Count to tell the number of objects
  • Understand addition as putting together and adding to
  • Understand subtraction as taking apart and taking from
  • Work with numbers 11-19 to build the foundation for place value
  • Identify and describe shapes
  • Create and compare shapes
Grade 1 Mathematics

  • Solve problems with addition and subtraction
  • Extend the counting sequence, counting beyond 100
  • Understand place value
  • Measure lengths with non-standard units
  • Tell time to the hour and half hour
  • Identify coins
  • Build and identify shapes
  • Partition circles and rectangles into two and four equal shares
Grade 2 Mathematics

  • Solve problems with addition and subtraction
  • Work with equal groups of objects
  • Understand and use place value to add and subtract
  • Measure and estimate lengths
  • Work with time and money
  • Recognize and draw shapes
  • Partition circles and rectangles into two, three, and four equal shares
Grade 3 Mathematics

  • Solve problems with multiplication and division
  • Understand place value and properties of operations
  • Develop understanding of fractions as numbers
  • Solve problems involving measurement
  • Understand concepts of area
  • Understand perimeter
Grade 4 Mathematics

  • Operations using the four operations with whole numbers
  • Generate and analyze patterns
  • Understand place value and properties of operations
  • Understand decimal notation
  • Build fractions
  • Understand concepts of angle and measure angles
  • Apply understanding of area
  • Classify shapes by properties of their lines and angles
Grade 5 Mathematics

  • Analyze patterns and relationships
  • Understand place value
  • Operations with multi-digit whole numbers, decimals and fractions
  • Volume of rectangular prisms
  • Writing and interpreting numerical expressions
  • Conversions using multiplicative reasoning
  • Graphing in the coordinate plane
Grade 6 Mathematics

  • Ratios and ratio reasoning
  • Fraction fluency*
  • Using and applying rational numbers
  • Reasoning with expressions, equations
  • Area of triangles and quadrilaterals
  • Surface area and volume of prisms and pyramids
  • Statistical questions and univariate numerical data
Grade 7 Mathematics

  • Rates, ratios and proportional relationships
  • Fluency with rational numbers
  • Problem solving with expressions, equations, and inequalities
  • Area and circumference of circles
  • Area and perimeter of polygons
  • Geometric properties of triangles and angles
  • Comparing distributions of one-variable data
  • Probability
Grade 8 Mathematics

  • Solving linear equations and inequalities
  • Identifying, analyzing and comparing functions
  • Developing understanding of similarity and congruency using transformations and coordinate geometry
  • Pythagorean Theorem
  • Volume of cylinders, cones and spheres
  • Patterns in two-variable data


The high school standards specify the math topics students should study to be college and career ready. They are organized by conceptual categories or themes: Number and Quantity, Algebra, Functions, Modeling, Geometry, and Statistics and Data.


Equally important are the Standards for Mathematical Practice, describing the behaviors or ‘habits of mind’ of mathematically proficient students. However, the state’s math performance in NAEP and PISA exams did not reflect the desired outcome the Standards wished to achieve.


North Carolina NAEP Test Results

In the most recent 2019 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) test, North Carolina ranked 19th in Grade 4 math and 22nd in Grade 8 math. Although North Carolina students have improved their NAEP math scores since 1996, their overall score is at a medium level, around 245/500 for Grade 4 math and 286/500 for Grade 8 math in 2019.


North Carolina PISA Performance

Looking at the 2013 NAEP tests of Grade 8 students, who were most likely to be eligible to take the PISA test in 2015, North Carolina ranked 23rd in math while Massachusetts ranked first place. In the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, students from North Carolina, Massachusetts, and Puerto Rico represented the United States. This was the first time that North Carolina students participated in the PISA exam. While they were competitive in reading and science with many European Union nations, they were less proficient in math (478), and even fell below the average score (489) of all nations.


How did the two US states have such a huge difference in math performance? Part of the answers has to do with the academic standards. Unlike many other states, Massachusetts adopted rigorous standards as part of its 1993 Education Reform Act for almost 20 years until the existence of Common Core State Standards. Massachusetts has made huge investments in its teacher pipeline, and the students are experiencing more successful teaching methodologies than North Carolina. Another key factor that contributed to North Carolina’s math failure is the lack of parental involvement in math education.


Suggested by the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, a healthy parent-student-school relationship is a vital component to the math success of students. Parents and guardians can support their children by asking them what they are learning in school, encouraging perseverance, and seizing opportunities to practice math in the real world. Parents may encourage their children to look at class notes, assignments, and activities while they study or do homework. Understanding the strategies and methods their children are expected to use when solving problems helps build strong parent-child connections. Having children share their graded work will also assist parents in monitoring progress. Allowing rooms for mistakes and growth supports individual thinking and encourages study responsibility. Since numbers and patterns are visible everywhere, parents should look for opportunities during family time to see mathematics in the world. Regular practice will increase students’ speed and efficiency with procedural fluencies.


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Overview of North Carolina – https://www.usnews.com/
K-12 Math Standards – https://sites.google.com/dpi.nc.gov/
PISA Results: NC Schools Perform Well, But Show Plenty of Room to Grow – https://www.wakeed.org/
North Carolina Overview – https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/
United States Student performance (PISA 2018) – https://gpseducation.oecd.org/

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