Welcome to the first of our series FAQ blogs! We just started this blog, so we don’t have many questions from our readers yet. What we do have is a list of questions that we receive regularly as we provide training and materials for schools, districts, and educators in our everyday work. Today, we are going to focus on the Common Core State Standards. Hopefully we can answer a few questions you may have about them, and if you would like any further information about the Common Core Standards, feel free to reply to this post or contact us privately.
What are the Common Core State Standards?
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a set of K-12 educational standards that have been adopted by more than 40 states and the District of Columbia. They were developed through a state-led initiative that brought together educators, parents, and other educational stakeholders to create specific expectations common to all states throughout the U.S. The standards were developed specifically to prepare students for college and career readiness by the end of high school. The writers began with the final expectations and requirements of graduates then worked backwards from this desired result to create the individual K-12 learning standards for each grade.
Who wrote the CCSS?
A group of educators and officials from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) led the effort with extensive input from teachers, parents, school administrators, members of the public, and educational experts from across the country.
Is my state using the CCSS?
Probably, though that depends on what state you are in. More than 40 states and the District of Columbia have adopted CCSS and most have already begun implementing the standards. Each state has retained control over how and when they implement the standards so whether or not your state has already begun varies greatly. Each state also has the opportunity to modify the standards slightly (see below), and at least one state, Minnesota, has only adopted the CCSS English Language Arts standards.
Are the Common Core Standards exactly the same in every state?
No. Each state is allowed to add up to 15% of their own material to better represent the particular educational needs and priorities of that state. New Mexico, for example, has included literature from Hispanic and Native American texts in their high school English standards; New York has added the teaching of ordinals in Kindergarten mathematics; and California has included a third-grade standard specifically addressing the vital skill of learning both reciprocal pronouns (we didn’t quite understand the need for that one either!). However, the standards in each state are all broadly the same. The vast majority of changes that have been implemented are additions and supplements. The same broad set of skills and concepts are taught to the same grades in all states that have adopted the standards. Student learning will be measured against the same benchmarks and standards. So, if students move from Newark, NJ, to rural Kentucky, they should be learning the same material.
I saw an email or YouTube video that shows some crazy way that Common Core wants teachers to teach math. How are students supposed to learn math that I can’t even understand?
CCSS Mathematics calls for students to learn a variety of methods for solving problems and develop a conceptual understanding of mathematical situations. On occasion, this means solving a math problem in a way that seems counter-intuitive or overly complex for someone who has been adding and subtracting numbers for decades. There is often a reason for having students do something in a particular way. In future blog posts, we are going to take a look at some of these assignments and videos that are circulating and explain them. Feel free to send us any of these that you’d like explained and analyzed.
Does Common Core require high school English teachers to stop teaching literature and focus instead on non-fiction writing?
Absolutely not! Common Core Standards do require that students read more non-fiction and informational texts than may have been assigned previously. The guidelines change depending on the grade, but by high school, a significant majority (see table below) of what students read should be informative and technical texts. The important thing to remember about this requirement is that those guidelines extend to all of the material that students read for school in all subjects. Nearly all the material that students read in their history and science classes will be non-fiction and informative texts, and those certainly count! English teachers should be including some relevant non-fiction and informative texts within the English classroom, but throwing out all of Shakespeare and Harper Lee for technical manuals is going overboard. Political speeches, literary non-fiction, informative essays, and biographical works are all a part of non-fiction and informative texts. Many teachers already include informational material in the classroom.
Do the CCSS include any standards for science or history?
Yes and no. CCSS do not include any content standards for history or science. They do include reading comprehension and writing literacy standards for sixth grade through twelfth grade. These address how students should be reading informational texts in their science, history, and technical courses, as well as standards that describe the kinds of writing assignments that they should be completing in those classes. These have traditionally only been addressed directly in English courses; however, as we mentioned above, the vast majority of middle school and high school non-fiction and informational reading is done outside the English classroom. These standards are designed to work alongside content standards to teach students how to read and interpret history, science, and technical texts, and how to write effectively for these courses There is also a new set of science content standards being adopted by many states. Social Studies and History standards are in development, and a new set of Art standards have recently been released. We will be addressing all these standards in separate blog posts in the future.
The Common Core State Standards Initiative also has a whole series of Frequently Asked Questions, Myths vs. Facts, and a section on what parents should know on their website. If you have any questions for us about the Common Core State Standards, or any other educational topic that you would like us to answer, feel free to send them to us. We will answer them as soon as we are able, and you may be featured in a future post! Look for our next FAQ blog soon!