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CCSS Infographic

What Are the Common Core State Standards?

If you’re just now learning about the standards, you’re not alone. A PDK/Gallup poll from 2013 (that was last year, folks) showed 62% of the general U.S. population has never heard of the Common Core. I emphasize 2013 because the Common Core was published in 2010 and adopted by 41 states (and 1 district: D.C. represent!).

Here’s how NPR outlined the Common Core in their popular post The Common Core FAQ (posted on May 27, 2014):

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is the largest-ever attempt in the United States to set unified expectations for what students in kindergarten through 12th grade should know and be able to do in each grade in preparation for college and the workforce. In short, the standards are meant to get every student in America on the same page. Right now, the Common Core standards cover two areas: math and English language arts (writing and reading). They were developed by a group of governors, chief state school officers and education experts from 48 states. To date, 44 states and the District of Columbia have formally adopted the new standards. By Spring of 2015, most of these states plan to administer state tests that have been aligned to the new standards.

Honestly, how three years went by without every teacher having at least a general knowledge base of the Common Core is befuddling. So, in the spirit of No Child Left Behind (we do know about this educational initiative, don’t we?), no self-respecting American shall leave this page until they achieve an uncommon understanding of Common Core.

Who Created the Common Core?

Ok, so which branch of the Federal Government do we blame for creating these standards and mandating states adopt them? We need look no further than the CCSS copyright:  

© Copyright 2010 National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers. All rights reserved.

Wait… Governors and State School Officers? Those certainly aren’t members of the Federal Government. That’s right; representatives from 48 states devised the Common Core standards (I know you’re curious who wasn’t represented: it was Virginia and Texas). After creating the standards, the majority of these states opted to implement them.

Common Core Family Tree
Common Core Family Tree

What is the Common Core State Standards Initiative?

For better or for worse, the Common Core standards replaced state-designed standards, with the expectation that students across participating states would now be accountable to the same educational benchmarks. I will now walk you through a side-by-side comparison for each of the 43 current participating states’ previous educational frameworks. Alright, you called my bluff … we’ll just look at California (sorry for the state-bias; I just happened to grow up with these scintillating standards).

Common Core Standard Breakdown Infographic

 

Common CoreMathematics Framework for California Public Schools
CCSS 7th grade mathematics standardsCA 7th grade mathematics standards
Standard:CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.7.EE.B.4.ASolve word problems leading to equations of the form px + q = r and p(x + q) = r, where pq, andr are specific rational numbers. Solve equations of these forms fluently. Compare an algebraic solution to an arithmetic solution, identifying the sequence of the operations used in each approach.Standard:Number Sense 1.7Solve problems that involve discounts, markups, commissions, and profit and compute simple and compound interest.
Example:Forty-four is the result of four and one-half times the sum of quantity q and five. What is the value of q?Example:Jason bought a jacket on sale for 50% off the original price and another 25% off the discounted price. If the jacket originally cost $88, what was the final sale price that Jason paid for the jacket?
Emphasis:1) Understanding concepts2) Determining which method of analysis is needed to answer a questionEmphasis:1) Knowledge of data and calculations2) Memorization of equations

 

An important takeaway from this exercise: Common Core standards specify a level of competency students should master in order to solve real-world problems. They’re also expected to exercise their critical thinking skills by reflect upon their newfound problem-solving methods. On the other hand, the state standards specified what types of problems students should solve (i.e. markups, commissions, profit, etc.), but did not specify how those problems should be delivered (nor did many of them require students to think about their approach).

The CCSS are built on these, and other existing standards, but there are some significant differences. The Common Core State Standards Initiative outlines important changes in Math & ELA:

CCSS Implementation Challenges Ahead

Here’s the tricky part: The Common Core standards were and are meant to succeed state standards, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a plan in helping states adopt them. By May of the 2012-2013 school year, only 25% of California school districts reported “having completed a plan for CCSS transition.” Roughly 2 months later, in July of 2013 roughly half (52%) of US math/ELA teachers said that “implementation in their school [was] fully complete or mostly complete in at least one of these areas.” This shows us just how much work schools did that summer in order to meet the 2013-2014 CCSS objective of all participating states fully implementing the Common Core into their curricula.

Not all schools reported meeting this objective. In November 2013, 45% of CA school districts reported that alignment with the CCSS was “planned” or had “not yet taken place.” You mean on top of managing the lives of thousands of students, providing professional development, creating policy initiatives, cow-towing to thousands of parents, all while trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life, our school districts are not fully aligned with the Common Core? Then we will have to judge them very harshly by their students’ performance on the new standardized tests coming this 2014-2015 school year.

Standardized Assessments

Our grand ole’ Governors and State School Officers aren’t responsible for these assessments. This heart-warming job has been won by two federally funded groups: The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), and The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced). If a state has chosen to adopt the Common Core, they then decide to seek membership in one of the two consortia; alternatively, a state can work with an independent test provider like Florida who is currently working with AIR (e.g. American Institutes of Research).

There is great debate over the value and process of standardized tests, so just grit your teeth for this next part. PARCC and Smarter Balanced share the same goal (at least on paper): to create a Common Core-aligned assessment that functions as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning. Yet in their respective mission statements we find key differences.

Smarter Balanced (on the surface level) emphasizes “[helping] students succeed–regardless of disability, language or subgroup.” Hold your horses, PARCC. We’re not saying you don’t have the same objective; Smarter Balanced just makes a point of talking about differentiation quite often in their content, just as you say “[we] ensure that every child is on a path to college and career readiness.”  In all fairness, PARCC and Smarter Balanced have both been pretty active with respect to their 2012-2014 field tests. They have been gauging the efficacy of assessment items and performance tasks (yes these are different than multiple choice and true/false). Both consortia are more than well-prepared to test our students in a diversity of ways that my scantron-formed mind can’t begin to comprehend. That said, let’s circle back to Common Core preparation.

PARCC V.S. Smarter Balance

Common Core Debate

2014-2015 School Year

The 2014-2015 school year brings with it new Common Core-aligned standardized assessments, but we seem to be stuck in the old debate over whether Common Core should even be an educational norm. Fortunately, you are now equipped with an understanding of this initiative, and can enter that debate. Once we get past the debate, we’ll get into actionable strategies for Common Core on-boarding. Whether you’re a student, teacher, administrator, or parent, we’ll have an implementation plan tailored just for you. Until then, put your gloves on and get ready to enter the ring next week.