Math tutors struggle with Common Core standards

Ju Hee Park, Staff Writer

When senior Kirsten Pira sits down with her tutee in math, sometimes she feels more helpless than helpful. It’s not that she isn’t good at math, but Kirsten, just like the teachers who are still adjusting to the Common Core curriculum, is learning it too.

Math is the most requested subject for tutoring, and more than 50 percent of the 96 math tutees are in Common Core math.

With the new Common Core standards, the assigned tutors now face the problem of tutoring math they’re not experienced in.

“I think it’s just tough on tutors because they might not know the grand scheme of things,” math teacher Eric Vallecillo said.

Unlike traditional math, Common Core is dependent on the weight of students’ understanding of the given problem.

“It just requires more work on the part of the tutor because they have to orient themselves to relearn old topics so they can conform with Common Core,” senior Justin Layman said.

From learning to reframe topics in a new way to understanding new vocabulary, math tutors have struggled to grasp the new standards.

“It’s almost like a language barrier in a way, because they focus on different topics and they are taught differently and so whatever helped me in earlier math may not be what they’re learning and may not be what helps them most when they’re learning a new topic,” Layman said.

“The wording of the question makes it really hard to teach it,” senior Aaron Rugnao said. “It’s one of the biggest problems.”

Tutors also have trouble comprehending the organization of Common Core.

“Sometimes they use those input and output machines, and I don’t even understand it myself and it’s something so simple but I feel that it’s really complicated to understand,” Pira said.

With the expanded use of word problems in Common Core math, some tutors see problems as more like English questions than math questions.

“For me, it’s kind of like AP free response questions where they ask you in parts and you’re supposed to answer it in order,” senior Jacqueline Gaspar said.

However, despite tutors’ lack of experience, tutees say they are still learning and are grateful for the help.

“My grades have gone up since I’ve done tutoring,” freshman Carlos Alvarez said.

Although the tutors have already learned the basics of necessary math, they proposed a training session in advance to help prepare for the subjects they are assigned to tutor.

“It’s the concepts of algebra but I think that we just need training to understand that type of math because we’re not used to it,” Pira said.

A training session for math tutors was offered by district math instructional coach Cam Wong on October 22, providing an overview of the general idea of Common Core.

“I was asked to provide this training because tutors were not familiar to the Common Core math,” Wong said. “They were also challenged in supporting the tutees with the new curriculum.”

The tutors practiced math problems to help them understand the shift from CST testing to the new SBAC exam and familiarize themselves with the online support materials for the newly adopted math curriculum.