WhY Vertical Alignment is Essential

How am I Supposed to Have Time for This?

Although I am in my second year outside of the classroom, I remember the grind of being a classroom teacher. When you are in your classroom, you are constantly thinking: what’s best for my students? As teachers we spend countless hours planning lessons, collecting data, analyzing data, revising lesson plans, communicating with parents, researching materials and collaborating with teachers and colleagues in the building--among what feels like a million other responsibilities. The majority of these to-dos happen outside of our scheduled work days. So whY should we make the time to vertically align? The bottom line: vertical alignment IS what’s best for your students.  Fortunately, there are many resources out there that can be helpful in visualizing that vertical alignment, and we’re here to help streamline the process even more.

What is Vertical Alignment?

Let’s start out by defining vertical alignment. As a teachers, we already focus on horizontal alignment. We look at our grade level standards and determine what our students need to know and then think about how to get them there. But we know that isn’t where we should stop. It would be so helpful if we could know  what the students in our classrooms come in knowing, as well as where they are headed the following year. Knowing what our incoming students know or should be able to do allows us to build on mathematical concepts and strategies previously learned in order to meet the grade level expectations. Knowing what our students will be learning and what they should be able to do in the following grade level will allow us to bridge the gap and prepare our students for the next step.

What Resources are out There to Help Support Vertical Alignment?

Critics of the Common Core State Standards refer to these standards as “new math.” Here at Y Understand Math, we view the Common Core State Standards for what they truly are: a framework of logical, mathematical standards that conceptually build on each other in such a way that allows for a deeper understanding. As teachers, we often find it hard to find time to vertically align. Trying to collaborate with teachers in the grade level below or above can be time consuming. Locating the standards online and sifting through what they say; making sense of the domains and numbers, it can all be challenging and overwhelming--I mean, c’mon! Can’t addition and subtraction be the same NBT throughout all grade levels?! This would make ALL of our lives so much easier!

There are some quality resources out there to help map the transition between concepts at different grade levels.  One such resource is the Coherence Map at achievethecore.org.  However, we find that poring over these lists of standards can be mind-numbing. That’s where we come in! Just like how we work to make mathematical understanding visual for our students, Courtney and I are here to highlight common strategies taught within these vertical frameworks, you guessed it, in a visual way.  

WhY Should you Trust us to do This Work?

Courtney and I are uniquely positioned to look at vertical alignment from a bird’s-eye view.  Our opinion? Rather than living in a perpetual state of trying to diagnose why students cannot grasp complex algebraic concepts, why not look at how the skills students learn each year build on each other and support those more challenging math concepts in upper grades?  This week, we’ve tried to do just that.


Last week, we took a deep dive in unpacking CCSS Algebra Standards A.2 and A.1: Seeing Structure in Expressions. This week, we will look at the underlying math concepts that are introduced in elementary school and add to students’ success and understanding in algebra. Think about this: how does skip counting--first introduced in kindergarten--serve as a fundamental building block for using the distributive property when simplifying an algebraic expression?? I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘it definitely doesn’t’, but we are here to tell you ‘it absolutely does!’ Crazy to think about!