5 Charts to Visualize the Common Core Math Curriculum

Adopting Illustrative Math

W. Edwards Demming once said, “Without data, you’re just another person with an opinion.” As an academic data specialist at Singapore American School, I get to visit different PLCs and witness firsthand how the new Illustrative Math program is being implemented in our elementary school.

We’ve been using the Common Core math standards for years, but the math resources in Google Drive looked like a college student’s dorm room, with half-eaten packages of ramen noodles and unfolded clothes everywhere. Sure, we could find what we needed, but new teachers found it challenging to follow. We needed to adopt a new program that would help us align our systems.

After a rigorous review process, we decided to go with Illustrative Math, a program that emphasizes math conversations, problem-solving, and collaboration. The rollout was intense, and teachers were feeling overwhelmed. They felt like they were just trying to stay a day ahead of what they were teaching.

“This is too much. We can’t do it all.” 

“How can we manage? “

“I don’t know what is after tomorrow.” 


These were some of the comments that I kept hearing over and over as I visited various PLCs in the elementary school. Seeing the big picture was tough. As with the adoption of any program, it takes a little while to get familiar with it. On top of everything that comes with the start of a new school year, a new math program was going to require more time and energy.

Let's help a teacher out

So, I decided to create a system to help teachers know what standards they were assessing and how often they were assessing them. After printing off enough paper to choke a goat, I went through each end-of-unit assessment for grades K-5, dug into the standards, and built a database.

Now, I couldn’t give the spreadsheet to the teachers. That would have been like giving them a box of LEGO without instructions and telling them to build a pirate ship.

Instead, I built a series of visualizations to make sense of the data. Several that wer more digestible, and free of pirates.

30,000 foot View

The first chart is a simple overview of the math domains and which grade teaches those domains across the elementary school. This is common knowledge, but it’s also a good place to start.

The next chart we looked at was an aggregation of all standards and assessment points for the entire program. A common phrase heard is “We don’t have enough time.” And fair enough, for some grades.  Take Grade 3, for example. They have 36 standards to assess and 234 assessment points.

Clearly, they have a lot to do.  What about Grade 1 or Kindergarten? They seem to have fewer assessment points and standards. Does that mean they don’t have enough time, though? It’s hard to say by looking at just this one set of data. But it does provide some context.

Zooming in a bit closer

illustrative math program charts

The next step was to lead teachers through an inquiry about the different charts presented to them. The colorful chart with the heatmap shows each domain broken down by grade level and unit. The number in each box represents the total number of times each domain is assessed. The darker the box, the higher the frequency. Teachers were asked:


What do you notice?

What do you wonder?


After some conversation, they often pointed out areas that were specific to their grade level. For example, Grade 3 was shocked to see such a high number (63) for operations and algebraic thinking in unit 8. This type of conversation gave teachers a broad overview of the program without having to dive into the granular details.

Let's see that another way

Now that teachers were buzzing with questions and curiosities about what they were seeing the colorful heatmap, I wanted to give them another view, so I showed two more charts.

I took all of the assessment points across each unit and smashed them together. Still a heat map, but now, they could see exactly how the total number of assessment points looked across each domain. The real kicker was that they could also then more easily compare their grade to the grade above or below.

This really got the conversations going.  The heat map was definitely the right way to display this information. Teachers naturally gravitated towards both the darker and lighter areas. With Grade 2 and Grade 3, conversations focused on the shift from Number and Operations to Operations and Algebraic Thinking. 

“Knowing that they are not focusing much on Number and Operations in Grade three means we really need to prepare our students and have this be a major focus of instruction.” – This was a highlight point from the Grade 2 team.

In addition, there was much surprise around how geometry was assessed. Prior to this data, teachers didn’t really know how little geometry was assessed in grades 1 through 4.  Why was there such a larger amount of assessment done in Kindergarten and Grade 5? Did that mean it wasn’t taught? Not really, it’s just that the assessment focus for grades 1 through 4 were in different areas.

The same chart was then shown in percentages. The rows going across for each grade level total 100%. Teachers were asked to look at how the Illustrative Math program was distributed by time spent. Did this reflect their current knowledge of the amount of time typically spent in each domain? Again, another great conversation starter.

Getting specific for each grade level

Finally, charts were provided for each grade level breaking down the specific standard and sub-standards by unit. This view allowed teachers to see when each standard is assessed throughout the year.

Here are some questions used to guide conversations:

  1. Is there only one time when a student is able to show their learning on a standard?
  2. Do they get multiple opportunities to show their learning for other standards?
  3. Which standards are assessed the most?
  4. Should those be our power standards?
  5. What if we don’t have time and we need to cut out some lessons or units? Which should they be?


Final thoughts

The idea behind sharing this information with teachers was not to make a decision for them. It was rather to provide a greater context of the Illustrative Math program overall for K-5.

This information allows teachers to understand what happens across their own grade level and the entire elementary school. By providing transparency and perspective, teachers and administrators can take this data and use it to help make informed decisions about their math program.

If we can provide data as information that is clear, easy to read, and easy to understand, we can help all of our stakeholders make better-informed decisions about student learning.

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