Last fall results from national math exams stirred up a tempest in a standardized test. It turns out math scores rose more quickly before No Child Left Behind was implemented, and fourth grade math scores haven’t improved since 2007. As reported in the New York Times, the achievement gap remains a chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

What does this mean for your child? While pundits and politicians battle over the big issues, it’s up to parents to stay on top of the little ones: their own kids’ academic development. Keep tabs on what your second grader should learn in math this year with our grade-based milestones. Of course, math curricula still vary widely from state to state as school districts grapple with how to implement the Common Core Standards, so these are merely guidelines. For a better sense of how your child’s schoolwork compares, look up your state’s math standards, see what the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends for preschool through high school, or read through the Common Core Standards for math.

In the classroom

What math concepts will your second grader learn?

Expect your child to become a minor master of the arithmetic skills he or she picked up in first grade. Over the year, first graders focus on understanding number relationships in addition and subtraction, first by using physical objects like rods and blocks and later with pencil and paper. If they haven’t already, kids begin making the leap to mental math, gaining the confidence needed to do simple problems in their head.

“Your child should be able to recall her basic addition and subtraction facts from memory by the end of second grade,” says Linda Eisinger, the 2005 Missouri Teacher of the Year.

Money, telling time, and number value

Second graders will continue their work from previous years by learning about money, time, and number values. They’ll learn how to add and subtract money with decimal points and solve equations like $1.25 + $.20 = $1.45.

When it comes to clocks, your child should be able to tell time to the quarter-hour on analog and digital devices alike.

Students may learn about place value in numbers with as many as three digits. That means being able to break down a number into its components. Take 879: that’s eight 100s, seven 10s, and nine ones. Students will also improve their abilities to compare whole numbers using the phrases “greater than,” “less than,” or “equal to” and the symbols >, <, or =.

Calculators: Tool or crutch?

How much should elementary school students rely on calculators? The issue has been debated by math teachers, university professors, and parents, but there is general agreement that calculators shouldn’t be a substitute for learning basic arithmetic skills. Talk to your child’s teacher about how they are used in his or her classroom. For a discussion on the pros and cons of calculators, check out Education World’s article “Educators Battle Over Calculator Use: Both Sides Claim Casualties.”

What to look for when you visit

  • Graphs on display, pictures of geometric shapes, and number lines used to practice addition and subtraction
  • Tiles, rods, blocks, or other objects used for counting and sorting
  • Measuring devices such as rulers, scales, and thermometers
  • Time set aside for pencil-and-paper practice with numbers
  • Lessons in problem solving throughout the day (“If 15 of you are buying milk for lunch, and 10 are buying juice, how many more students are getting milk?”)