The implementation of Common Core State Standards has begun. Now what? Our 2-part series on the Common Core answers some key questions about the standards, including what they mean for NYC families.
The first article in the series provides general information to support NYC families in understanding the Common Core. The second part looks at how the Common Core affects NYC students, and specifically looks at what NYC families can expect in terms of standardized testing and the Common Core
States all across the USA just implemented new teaching standards, curricula guidelines, and learning expectations for students, collectively called the "Common Core." Since these new standards are quite different from what schools have used in the past, parents are probably confused about the system, or worried that children will be underprepared for Common Core assessments. Families may wonder:
• What exactly is the Common Core?
• Do all states have the Common Core?
• Do private, public, and charter schools have the Common Core?
• What will change for my kid in an NYC school?
• What are some criticisms of the Common Core?
• What are criticisms of the Common Core rollout in NYC?
• Where can I get free resources to help my kid with Common Core?
This article was written to answer these questions and provide some helpful information on the Common Core.
The Common Core | What Exactly Is The Common Core?
The Common Core is a new set of academic standards for mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA)/literacy skills. The learning goals set forth by the Common Core outline what students in each grade should learn, and what students are responsible for mastering each year.
Basically, the Common Core is the list of things that kids need to learn in every grade, and these things are consistent for every school and state that uses the Common Core. The standards are also known as "College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards," which emphasizes just how important the new goals are: they can help show whether students are on the right track to college and beyond, even when the students are years from those life stages.
The standards themselves are pages long, and they go into great detail about specific math and ELA skills. There are hundreds of small standards that list specific skills: identifying the subject of a sentence, learning adjectives, understanding prepositional phrases, etc.
All of these goals build on each other to lead to larger ideas, like understanding the nuances of a text and interpreting it. The ELA standards all fall into one of the following categories:
• speaking and listening
• range, quality, and complexity of student reading
These areas cover all of the ELA standards. Each of the categories has its own specific standards, and these vary with each grade. For example, in the reading section for K-6th grade students, the Common Core requires students to "know and apply grade-level phonics and word analysis skills in decoding words."
This same reading section for 7-12th grade students asks teens to "determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone."
As you can see, these standards evolve with each grade: the focus in earlier years is on the mechanics of reading, while the important concepts later in high school are to unpack the readings and make sense of deeper meanings.
The math standards are a little harder to grasp, because there are so many different mathematical subjects to learn.
The standards break down each new subject in math into manageable chunks, and each grade depends on the standards from the year before. For example, one of the Kindergarten standards is "know number names and the count sequence." This turns into a few smaller standards:
• count to 100 by ones and by tens
• count forward beginning from a given number within the known sequence
• write numbers from 0 to 20
These little pieces build up to a sense of the order of numbers and basic counting skills, which all Kindergarteners should master before moving on in school. More broadly, the math standards include setting up models to solve math problems, persevering to solve problems, reasoning abstractly and quantitatively, etc.
It is important to note that even though the standards mention specific skills, the standards do not set out rules for how to teach students. Every school and teacher will have a unique method for teaching, and allow for diversity.
The Common Core was not created to destroy creative ways of learning, it just sets up specific learning goals that must be met.
For more information on the standards from the team responsible for the Common Core, visit the official Common Core website.
The Common Core | Why Was the Common Core Created?
Another question parents may have is why we need the Common Core at all! The reason for the new standards is the stagnant academic growth of students in the USA: American students have fallen behind their international peers, especially in mathematics.
Some of this difficulty is due to how students in different states learn concepts during different grades at school, so there is no solid learning structure in place. No one agrees on what students should learn at each grade level, so it is challenging for children to get a full education from different teachers and different schools.
The ultimate goal of the standards is to ensure that all students leave high school with the proper skills for college and for careers, no matter where the students are from.
The Common Core | Do All States Have the Common Core?
Forty-four states (and the DC area) have all willingly adopted the Common Core. In early 2014, the only states not using the Common Core are Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, Indiana, and Virginia.
All of the standards are at least equal to the toughness of each state's educational requirements before Common Core, so there is no worry about students learning less or teachers dummying down material.
The Common Core | Do Private, Parochial, and Charter Schools Have the Common Core?
Many schools have already implemented the Common Core standards, but it is not yet a country-wide tool. Once all the states adopt the Common Core or equivalent standards, then schools primarily operated with state funding (mainly public schools, including Charter schools) will implement these standards for math and for ELA/literacy subjects.
Private and parochial schools are not required to use the Common Core at this time and will continue to have complete flexibility on how and what they teach their students. However many schools have decided to adopt these standards anyway or to create similarly rigorous learning goals for math and ELA subjects.
The Common Core | What Will Change for my Kid in a NYC School using the Common Core?
For most students in NYC, and especially kids in public schools, the Common Core standards were probably implemented at some point during this year. What this meant, or may mean if your child's school is about to make the switch, is that each math or ELA class your child takes may have slightly different goals.
Teachers moving to the Common Core need to go through their curricula to ensure they meet Common Core standards, so that means making sure assessments measure the new learning goals, reading material helps build these skills, and math problem-solving and learning follows the Common Core pattern.
More concretely, the Common Core standards will require teachers to make sure that they cover each standard in order.
This may mean changes in your kid's homework or tests, just so the question wording matches that of the Common Core standards. Or perhaps teachers will emphasize slightly different parts of readings in class, and they will help students learn to analyze those texts according to the new standards.
This may mean some confusion or difficulty in adjusting to the new teaching style, especially because it may be the first time teachers try new ways of sharing material and helping their students.
A great way to help your child adjust to this change is to bring learning into everyday life. Since much of the focus on the ELA/literacy standards is increased reading comprehension and textual analysis, building these skills at home is a practical strategy for helping your child adjust.
This can take many forms: reading a story aloud, then discussing the book with your child, keeping up-to-date with important world news and analyzing those events, and generally trying to dig deeper into reading material with your child.
For older students who read independently, perhaps conversations at dinner or on weekends about his or her books could be a way to practice textual analysis and build critical reading skills.
The Common Core | What Are Some Criticisms of the Common Core and the Rebuttals?
The Common Core is still a divisive topic for families and school administrators, mainly because of how different it is than previous academic learning goals. The problems arising from the standards tend to come from the level of difficulty of the standards, and how the standards are phrased or explained to students.
The complaints about the level of difficulty of the standards come from parents and teachers everywhere.
These standards, used in forty-four states, are nearly all more challenging than the previous education goals for the states, and as a result, families and schools are frustrated. Because of the new standards, the family with an all-star student may now see some mediocre grades, and perhaps teachers may feel like they're failing their students by not being able to explain so much new material in an effective way.
While there is no way to immediately fix this grade drop or the amount of material that teachers need to cover, it is still important to think of the bigger picture. No one can argue that schools in the USA uniformly prepare students for college and careers, because that simply isn't true.
Time and time again, the USA lags behind many other developed countries in test scores, according to the Washington Post. Clearly, whatever we were doing doesn't work so well! The Common Core is the first major step in addressing this educational disparity, so the change is ultimately for a good cause.
Other complaints tend to involve the complexity of the problems, or the wording of questions, or just the way material is presented. Again, there aren't many options for changing this, since teachers and administrators around the USA collaborated to create the standards.
Their goal was to ensure that people everywhere could understand the new standards, and the specificity of the language helps make sure that the standards are precise.
Nearly every state now uses these standards, and there was no way for administrators to create questions that every school was familiar with. Every family and school will need to do a little adjusting to the new questions, but the payoff will be that kids around the USA will get used to the same format and meet the same learning goals.
For a more detailed look at some issues with the Common Core, check out the New York Times.
The Common Core NYC | What Are Criticisms of the Common Core Rollout in NYC?
The two biggest criticisms of the Common Core implementation in NYC are the timing of the rollout and the increase in testing difficulty. New York was one of the first states to begin Common Core testing, which only started last year.
This meant minimal time for preparing for the new tests, and that resulted in low scores for almost every student, just because the material and format were so new. Many schools felt pressured by the Department of Education to adjust to the Common Core quickly, and because of this rushed implementation, student and school performance suffered a bit.
Other states share this same frustration, since teachers everywhere had to rework their curricula and prepare for a new set of learning goals. The bottom line is, no matter how quickly the Common Core standards were implemented, the change would have been unwelcome anyway!
No schools, teachers, or students like to learn completely different material, or get used to a new format, or see bad test scores for a few months. The increase in test difficulty is another huge complaint in NYC. Some parents are even pulling their kids out of standardized tests, instead of having their children take the assessments. Since the material is so new for all of the students, few children are fully prepared for the questions and content.
That means lower than usual test scores, which worries families and schools. However every kid in NYC is going through the same adjustment process, and school officials know this. It is difficult to feel that your kid is a guinea pig as schools and teachers get used to the new format and learning goals. But after the bugs get worked out and people adjust, the tests will seem more familiar, and that should bump up scores again.
The Common Core | Where Can I Get Resources to Help My Kid with Common Core?
There are plenty of ways for you to help your child be better prepared for the Common Core standards.
First, you might want to check out the official Common Core website so you can better understand what exactly the standards are. The website also includes full lists of the standards for math and for ELA/literacy, so you can take a look at the learning goals and see what your child needs to brush up on.
For NYC-specific Common Core resources, EngageNY has a great set of tools This group is run by teachers and administrators, and they've packed their resource page with FAQs, worksheets, summaries of the standards, and plenty of other helpful tips.
Other websites like Achieve the Core are geared more toward educators, but they provide free worksheets and problems to help kids get used to the Common Core.The best way to help your kid with Common Core is to support him or her and be encouraging during this tough time.
Some kids may not struggle at all with the new learning goals and the question format, but others may need some more time to adjust. If you can be patient and help your child on homework occasionally, you will help make this process less confusing.
The payoff will be worth it if the Common Core helps the USA gain an international edge, and since the standards will help prepare your kid for college and beyond, try to think of it as an investment in the future.