What are the Common Core State Standards?
The Common Core State Standards are a set of learning objectives for students in grades K-12. They were developed several years ago by state leaders in an effort for states to have consistency in what our children are expected to know and be able to do by the end of their high school years. Developers of the standards looked at adults who found success in college and career, and determined what skills and knowledge they had at the end of high school. They started with that end in mind, and “mapped” backward all the way to kindergarten, so we would know what needs to happen in each grade. The standards include reading, writing, mathematics and the use of technology. There are sections that include disciplinary literacy for science, social studies and technical subjects, but no content objectives are included for these areas. You can go to the Common Core website to read the standards.
Is this a national curriculum?
Responsibility for education rests with each state. Each state, through its legislative and policy development processes, determines whether or not to adopt the Common Core. Virginia, Texas, Alaska, Nebraska, and Minnesota have not yet adopted the standards and it is not clear if they will eventually do so. Each of these states currently has its own standards that law and policy makers believe are sufficient to guide educational goals. The other 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards along with four territories and the Department of Defense educational system.
It is important to remember that the Common Core is not a comprehensive curriculum. A curriculum is inclusive of everything that is taught. The Common Core does not include the arts, science and social studies content, physical education or electives that are so important for a child’s education. Each state and local district must determine what should be included in each school’s curriculum so that children receive a comprehensive education. If you are concerned about having more arts in your child’s school, that is a conversation to be had with school leaders, your local school board, and sometimes state level leaders. Adopting the Common Core State Standards does NOT mean schools can’t teach all of the things that are not contained in the standards. The standards are only meant to address learning objectives in literacy and math.
Does my child have to read everything on the Common Core reading list?
The Common Core State Standards includes examples of reading selections to demonstrate the level of text complexity that should be included at each grade level. It also includes guidelines for the percentage of reading that should be non-fiction to ensure students have enough exposure to informational texts. This is not meant to be a reading list. It is intended to guide educators, parents and students so they can better understand the level of reading that should be expected. Reading selections are generally determined at the local level. Parents with concerns about what their children are reading or not reading should be addressed with teachers, school leaders and the local school board.
Why is the Common Core making my school so focused on standardized tests?
State level assessments are now being correlated with the Common Core. Some states are doing this gradually, while others are shifting more quickly. The Common Core State Standards include much higher levels of rigor than what we have expected in the past. This was necessary because so many students were not adequately prepared for college and career. About 20% of students attending four year colleges and 40% of students attending two year colleges require remediation. The percentage can be much higher in places, with some community colleges reporting that as many as 80-90% of incoming students require remediation. Additionally, we still have a huge dropout problem in the United States. We lose over a quarter of our students before they complete high school. Much of the problem stems from the lack of student skills needed to engage in high school level work. Schools and districts that increase expectations in earlier grades find more success in later grades.
Added to the current concerns is the new mandate for teacher evaluation in many states. Teachers and administrators in most places now must demonstrate their effectiveness in part through student performance on state assessments. This has been a very challenging process with many political and career ramifications. Some states have just gotten it wrong which has led to serious concerns among educators. Unfortunately in some cases, those with concerns have been lumping in poor assessment policy decisions with the Common Core State Standards.
Assessments are not part of the Common Core State Standards. Each state determines a plan to ensure that students are meeting the new standards, which includes standardized testing. Each district then determines how it will gauge individual student progress at predetermined intervals (monthly, quarterly, annually). Each school then works with teachers to help them gain the information they need to inform instruction on a daily basis. The idea is to ensure that everyone has the information they need to ensure that kids are learning what they should. If you are concerned about assessment, it is critical that you don’t confuse this with curriculum. The curriculum is WHAT we teach, while assessment is how we determine the learning that has occurred. Assessment concerns about school-based testing should be discussed with a local school board. Assessment concerns about state mandated testing should be discussed with state decision makers.
Isn’t this all just too hard for our kids to do?
No. If we want our children to be truly prepared for college and career, we must expect more of them. In my decades of experience with children, I have consistently seen them rise to the occasion whenever we expect more of them. The key is to make schools exciting, relevant places. If children are unhappy and seem stressed in school, the issue likely has more to do with instructional strategies and the culture of the school rather than the Common Core. We must start to transform our outdated learning environments into exciting places where children can learn when and how is appropriate for them. We must include the arts, physical activity, inquiry, collaboration, and creativity in and out of their classrooms. Only then will we start to see real improvement in educational outcomes.