Composite Set of Grades 1-6 Asian Math Standards Informs U.S. Common Core Standards Work

Washington, D.C. – As the United States moves toward developing common education standards in reading and mathematics, a new report by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) examines the composite standards in mathematics used in grades 1-6 by three Asian countries with high-performing students – Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore.

The Asian countries were chosen for international benchmarking because of their high performance on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) assessments.

The analysis finds a number of features that can inform an international benchmarking process for the development of K–6 mathematics standards in the United States, including:

  • The composite standards of the Asian countries concentrate the early learning of mathematics on numbers, measurement, and geometry, with less emphasis on data analysis, and little exposure to algebra.
  • The composite standards sequence topics within strands in ways that support in-depth and efficient development of mathematics content following a logical development of mathematical knowledge. “While any given state may have a coherent set of learning progressions within its own standards, the hodgepodge of different state standards results in textbooks that rarely provide this coherent development,” said Steven Leinwand, principal research analyst at AIR and co-author of the report.
  • The composite standards sequence mathematical competencies within a topic across the grades according to a mathematically logical progression. “This focus on mathematical development by topic across grades, or vertical alignment, is often missing from a grade-by-grade delineation of the content across topics,” explained Leinwand.
  • The ordering of content for one topic is frequently aligned to reinforce the content of another topic for the same or prior grades.

The study, Informing Grades 1-6 Mathematics Standards Development: What Can Be Learned From High-Performing Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore, was prepared for the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization. It was supported with funding by the U.S. Department of Education and The Synergy Enterprises, Inc.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit

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