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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How Will Common Core Change What We Do?

Erin Powers

Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist
Missouri and Illinois educators at CSD's Common Core State Standards and Next Generation Assessment Academy.

As full implementation of Common Core State Standards nears, educators are searching for answers to three questions: 1) What are the CC State Standards? 2) How will they change what I do? and 3) Why are they here? Some of the details are frustratingly elusive as various groups -- publishers, school districts, states, and universities -- jockey for positions in the first post-NCLB initiative. Here’s what we know that can fit into a blog:

 

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) represent the most significant, widespread education reform that has ever occurred in American public schools. Currently, 45 states and three territories have adopted the standards and plan to assess students’ progress on them during the 2014-2015 school year. With these standards, all learning is linked to 10 Career and College Readiness Standards, what students need to know and be able to do in order to thrive at the college level and in the career world. It’s the first time that the country has ever had such a clear picture of the kinds of skills students should have when they leave high school. It’s a big deal.

The CC standards are organized in an intoxicatingly simple, linear fashion that acknowledges that the work of a first grade teacher contributes to the growth of a tenth grade student. This connectedness between grade levels is a welcome departure from some previous state standards that jumped from topic to topic, addressing a particular skill one year, dropping it the next, and returning to it later on or not at all.

The standards’ organization will help teachers focus on the big picture and see how their work with students is connected to a child’s academic past and future. No CCSS strand can be mastered in one year.

How Will They Change What Teachers Do?

CCSS will have varying degrees of influence for secondary teachers. For the areas of English language arts and mathematics, CCSS will replace current state standards. They will unify goals and expectations for students across the country as well as align assessments. For history, science, and technical subjects, the standards offer 10 areas of key literacy skills to overlay onto already existing state content standards. Because the content and assessments will be the same from state to state, a unified system of measure can be used to compare student growth from one part of the country to another. And states will be able to compete for Federal money, but that’s another topic.

 

The standards address the fact that literacy demands in college, the workplace, and life in general are getting higher, not lower, and to thrive in an information-rich, digital global age, we need a highly literate population.

For the authors of CCSS, this translates to teachers in all disciplines sharing responsibility for students’ literacy development. While English teachers might be relieved to know they will not have to carry the responsibility of literacy instruction alone, CCSS also acknowledges that the informational texts used in various subjects are complex and worthy of study. It makes sense that the best person to teach specific areas of literacy is the expert teacher of the field: scientists, historians, and other scholars. The authors believe that these skills are essential to the success of students in these disciplines.

It doesn’t mean that a science teacher is going to drop teaching the concept of velocity and start teaching essay writing, but it does mean that writing in science, a common occurrence among scientists, will benefit young scholars.

 

The CCSS will help solidify students’ progression to higher-level math, through real-world applications and conceptual understanding, not just procedural knowledge. It’s through concepts that students will be able to go beyond passing the weekly math test and build to a sophisticated understanding of the language of math; hence taking students to the level of achievement needed in fast tech times.

The Technology Piece

The standards also take into account our rapidly changing information age, acknowledging that entirely new genres of reading and writing could develop at any time (Twitter, Facebook updates, and multi-author blogs did not exist in 1997 when many current state standards were in development). To help address the demands of technology, the CCSS incorporates research and media skills into every subject. It’s a spot-on relevant move in an age when anyone can look up the answer to anything on the Internet.

No longer do books, or adults, hold all of the information. Students have to be able to navigate through, independently, a vast amount of information, learn and mimic new genres, and communicate with others near and far. It’s with this in mind that the CCSS focuses on key skills and concepts that will serve students for a lifetime in our ever-changing world.

What’s Next?

Of course, we have to note that the CCSS require new kinds of assessments. Hopefully, these tests will turn our education system away from the rote memorization and test prep culture fostered by current high-stakes assessments. Instead, they have the potential to support classrooms where complex reading, writing, and critical thinking is everyday work in nearly every part of the country. Places where students question the author, evaluate claims and evidence, and consider multiple perspectives. We don’t know much about how, exactly, the assessments will look, but they promise to match the kinds of higher-order skills demanded by the standards.

They will not be simple multiple-choice tests, identifying sentence types, word origins, and the result of the Roman Empire’s war with Carthage. In an era when teachers are more often judged based on students’ test scores, this shift is huge.

Like anything else, how the CC Standards are implemented will make all the difference. The authors are very clear: CCSS does not include information about how teachers should teach. From this, I infer that they understand the complexity of teaching and learning. I suspect they know that binders of ready-made packaged programs and curriculum are worthless without a high quality teacher who’s given the opportunity, respect, and support to design learning for his or her students.

Unanswered Questions

It’s this clear message that makes classroom teachers so vulnerable. We don’t know how, exactly, CCSS will be implemented at the state, district, and school levels. Will teachers get to design new units of study? Will they be offered an opportunity to collaborate around the idea of what these standards mean for their students? Will they have a chance to reflect on student progress, to refine their practice, and make meaningful instructional decisions? To believe in something, you have to own it.

If teachers don’t own it, the full potential of CCSS will get lost in the bureaucratic minefield of our public schools. My hope is that the implementation of CCSS will pair with empowering the most influential person in the classroom: the teacher.

How has your school prepared for Common Core? Please share with us in the comments section below.

Erin Powers

Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist
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Amy's picture
Amy
Special Education Teacher, Germany

Our district will begin adopting CCSS next year. I have really enjoyed reading about the challenges and victories of using the standards. Thank you for your insights.

Brittany's picture
Brittany
Special Education Teacher from New Jersey

In 2010, my school district adapted the implementation of the Core Content standards, and we began planning around these new standards. Since their implementation, our district has been provided with numerous professional development opportunities, and also "coaching" visits upon request. We have adapted a new Language Arts curriculum based on the Core Content, choosing a textbook that focuses on the standards and teaches around them (Holt McDougal Literature series). Most contents have re-written their curriculums with these standards as the backbone.

From my experience with the standards, it forces teachers to teach across the curriculum, and reinforces what is learned in each class. It allows for student centered learning, and it also creates rigorous (but realistic) expectations for students. I see a definite increase in text complexity, which is the direction NJ is headed. Pretty soon PARCC will replace NJASK for our state assessment, and the PARCC assessment is a college readiness preparation which correlates with Core Content standards.

As of right now, students in NJ will still be participants of the NKJASK, (which includes multiple choice questions) but we have already begun to see the shift in the test. Where there used to be a focus on fiction texts and persuasive writing, we are now seeing more complex informational texts along with much more explanatory writing. This year argument writing will begin replace the persuasive piece, encouraging students to use research provided in the prompt. The push for the use of textual evidence has been tremendous in our district, and it has proved to be useful for our students. No longer are students making up information they read, or writing long essays for open ended responses. Instead students are now applying skills learned through the Core Content by incorporating textual evidence into their reading tasks and writing tasks as well. Students are explaining the meaning of texts and have a better understanding of "big ideas" and theme within both fiction and non-fiction.

So far, as a special education teacher, I feel the CCSS are reasonable and achievable. I like our new curriculums and I feel comfortable teaching it, as well.

Sabrina Schongalla's picture
Sabrina Schongalla
High School English/Language Arts

Laura,
Thanks for the info. As we begin to make these changes in our building I may be in touch!
-Sabrina

Wowzers's picture
Wowzers
Wowzers offers online Game-based Math curriculum for Grades 3-8

CCSS also ushers in Computer-Based Testing (CBT) as its assessment means. That means the assessments will completed and, more importantly, graded digitally.

Teachers will no longer have to wait months for state assessment results. These immediate results will give the educators more time to focus on reinforcement and progress.

Check out more about how digital data and CBT's will give teachers more time to improve progress at http://blog.wowzers.com/bid/266542/Don-t-Wait-on-your-Student-s-Success-...

Erin Powers's picture
Erin Powers
Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist

Rich,
I agree that students definitely need support in reading textbooks in all disciplines. In Doug Buehl's recent book, "Developing Readers in the Academic Disciplines," he writes about why this is such an important issue and gives concrete ways to address these needs.

Miss Z's picture
Miss Z
third grade teacher from Pennsylvania

Thanks Erin.

We have not been provided with any information on the new common core standards at this time. However, we are supposed to begin to implement them in the coming school year. Many teachers in my district are very worried and nervous about this coming change because of the lack of information.
Being a special education teacher, I have to wonder how these new standards with a higher demand will affect those students with special needs. We are striving for goals that are sometimes already too high for the students we are serving, and now the bar is being raised again. How will those students in third grade that are still reading on a first grade level be affected?
While we were not provided with any materials or information to look at, many teachers found the standards online. There are many big changes in the required material. For example, Pennsylvania currently has third graders being exposed to multiplication facts, but the common core standards are proposing knowledge of multiplication and division facts. While these concepts are related and of course feasible, will there be any sort of roll over period for those who did not start at the beginning of the continuous line of standards? Or will those in the older grades already be expected to know all of that information?

Stephanie Baxter's picture

The district where I teach has adopted the CCSS in the areas of English language arts and Math. While adopted the new standards, many commitees were formed within the county to write curriculum. I find this some what confusing as a first year teacher. The state of Georgia adopts the CCSS and we call it CCGPS. Then our county changes around the order of the curriculum and writes new curriculum in the other content areas to fit with the CCGPS. From what I have seen this year the CCSS has a lot to over and definately provokes a more indepth thought process.

My main question is:

If each county is taking the adopted materials and creating their own supplimentary materials, will the curriculum be the same from state to state when they are done adjusting it?

Erin Powers's picture
Erin Powers
Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist

Hi Stephanie,
Good question. The CC State Standards serve as benchmarks for students across the states. They do not include any materials, so it makes sense that your state is developing its own curriculum from county to county. Every state and school district will have to decide how to best support students in these areas and that means different curriculum from place to place. Still, I suspect that we will see some similar curricular trends across the country, but that's just a hunch.

On a related note, each state can add up to 15% of its own standards to CCSS, so even though the bulk of the standards will be common from state to state, they will not be exactly the same.

Erin Powers's picture
Erin Powers
Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist

Hello Miss Z,
I'm glad that the teachers in your area are learning what they can about CCSS, but I'm disappointed to hear about your lack of support. It's no wonder teachers are worried. I'd highly recommend Lucy Calkins's book, "Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement" to you and your colleagues. While I certainly cannot answer all of your questions, I have to believe that reasonable leaders know that there will be a period of adjustment from current standards to CCSS. Additionally, the needs of special education students, as well as English Language Learners, will have to be addressed. We all look forward to gaining some clarity in these areas.

James Dittes's picture
James Dittes
English teacher from Gallatin, Tennessee

Here in Tennessee, there were already so many changes in the wake of Race to the Top two years ago, that I think a lot of teachers are burying their heads in the sand with Common Core.
I think the attitude is "not again!"

This change is for the better and for the long term. I support it.

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