The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics identify Critical Areas for each grade level which describe two to four big ideas at that grade level. Educators can use the Critical Areas to focus the work students do in the classroom and to make instructional decisions.

The Critical Areas help teachers make instructional decisions by providing a focus for the work to be done at each grade level. The Critical Areas are not in addition to the standards; rather, they help by grouping and summarizing the most critical skills at each grade level, those around which teachers should plan much of their instructional time throughout the year. Using these Critical Areas as a lens through which to view the Content Standards at a particular grade level is meant to help teachers plan meaningful learning opportunities for their students that connect throughout the school year and form a firm foundation on which to build concepts and procedures in later years.