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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Resources for Understanding the Common Core State Standards

Explore an educator's guide to websites, organizations, articles, and other resources looking at the new system of standards and how they will be assessed.
By Amy Erin Borovoy (aka VideoAmy), Ashley Cronin
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Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer volume of dense, conflicting information out there about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)? You're not alone. Connecting with other educators is often a great way to uncover useful CCSS information, tools, and resources. Consider sharing your voice in online communities: on Twitter (#CCSS or #CommonCore), on Pinterest (Edutopia's Common Core pinboard is one place to start), or in Edutopia's community discussion about the Common Core. If you'd like even more help making sense of the initiative, here's Edutopia's guide to other organizations that offer valuable resources.

The Debate

Debate and controversy continue over the CCSS and associated changes to assessments. Some supporters argue a common set of rigorous national standards will transform American education, prepare students for college and careers, and allow our nation to maintain international competitiveness. Some opponents assert the standards represent a flawed, untested, “one-size-fits-all” approach -- an overreach into matters best left up to local control. Lawmakers in several states have introduced bills revisiting the decision to adopt the CCSS in the first place. Unfortunately, many people have been left out of the debate entirely. An August PDK/Gallup poll demonstrated most Americans don’t know about the Common Core and those who do, don’t understand it.

With rumors about the CCSS swirling, it can be difficult to sort out fact from fiction. This article from Common Sense Media includes links to some resources for understanding supporting and opposing arguments. Smithsonian’s “What to Make of the Debate Over Common Core,” by Stephen Sawchuk, is another good read. Several CCSS endorsers have put effort into debunking myths; “ASCD Policy Points: Common Core State Standards, Myths and Facts” is one of those efforts. For more updates from around the nation as events take place, take a look at ASCD’s Core Connection Newsletter and Education Week’s ongoing Common Standards coverage. Finally, The Hechinger Report's in-depth coverage of CCSS implementation progress in seven states is a good source of stories "from the trenches" and more detailed information about CCSS intricacies and controversies.

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Getting Started

Common Core State Standards Initiative

First, go straight to the source. The Common Core State Standards Initiative website is comprehensive and well-organized. You can download PDFs of the English Language Arts Standards and the Mathematics Standards, see an interactive map of which states have adopted the standards, read a list of myths about the standards, and check out a FAQ that addresses many questions about them. You can also sign up to get a bi-weekly newsletter with Common Core updates from the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Videos on the Common Core

The Teaching Channel offers more than 150 useful videos about Common Core implementation, from broad overviews to lesson ideas for specific standards. They've also developed additional videos and resources, including demonstrations of Common Core-aligned lessons, in partnership with leading non-profits and teachers unions focused on implementing the Common Core. And if you're looking for short, accessible videos to explain the Common Core Standards to parents or colleagues, check out Hunt Institute's YouTube channel. There you will find more than 30 videos, from brief animated overviews, to details on the standards' specifics, to Spanish translations. "Shaping rigorous, world-class education standards" is one of the Hunt Institute's key initiatives, so it has done great work making the Common Core understandable. The institute even wrote a Video Vignette User Guide (PDF), which helps break down the content of the videos.

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ASCD's Common Core Resources

ASCD received a $3 million grant from the Gates Foundation to support implementation of Common Core State Standards over a three-year period, and it has become an endorsing partner in the initiative. ASCD has developed a Common Core resource page with a wealth of information, and created a website called EduCore: Tools for Teaching the Common Core. The organization has a twice-monthly, topic-based newsletter, Core Connection (mentioned above), that you can subscribe to by filling out a brief survey. And there's a hashtag to follow on Twitter at #ASCDcore.

Common Core Toolkit from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills

Among all the great resources offered by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), you can find the Common Core Toolkit, a 48-page guide as a free PDF download or in hard copy for a nominal fee. This resource helps map the CCSS to P21's comprehensive Framework for 21st Century Skills. It includes lesson vignettes to show what such alignment looks like in action, resources and links for states and districts working to put the standards into place, and information about assessment.

Achieving the Common Core

As an independent, non-profit education-reform organization, Achieve has a mission of supporting standards-based education reform, and it offers both content and policy resources. The best place to start is the Achieving the Common Core page, where you will find a PowerPoint presentation, fact sheets, side-by-side comparisons of the CCSS and other respected benchmarks, videos, and lesson plans. The "On the Road to Implementation" guide is useful and well-organized, and Achieve has also developed a Toolkit for Evaluating the Alignment of Instructional and Assessment Materials.

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Lesson Planning

Share My Lesson Common Core Information Center

Ready to start thinking about classroom implementation? Share My Lesson is a fantastic free platform where teachers can exchange lesson plans and ideas, developed by the American Federation of Teachers and TES Connect. Their Common Core State Standards information center is a hub for lesson plans and advice. The Share My Lesson team did the legwork of digging through more than 250,000 user-uploaded and -rated resources on the site to find the most relevant ones for teaching with the Common Core Standards -- check out the K - 8 Math Index and the 6 - 12 English Language Arts Index for lessons mapped to specific standards. They also host a Common Core Forum so you can join the discussion.

LearnZillion Common Core Lesson Plans

Another place to look for high-quality teacher-produced lesson plans that align to the CCSS is LearnZillion, a learning platform that combines video lessons, assessments, and progress reporting. In addition to sortable Math and ELA video lessons, they offer a handy Common Core navigator. This organization has a great backstory -- started by a public school in Washington D.C. as a home-grown repository for screencast lessons made by their teachers, they caught the attention of edtech funders and ended up with seed money to take their idea to a national level. Watch a video or read a blog and hear a podcast from Marketplace about LearnZillion.

Khan Academy Practice Problems

Looking for resources to support math instruction? Khan Academy has created thousands of CCSS-aligned math problems, problems created and reviewed by math educators. Check out the Common Core map on their website to browse skills and related math exercises by grade and relevant standard. Adaptive software helps to identify gaps and show progress on each student's learning dashboard, and real-time tracking data is available to teachers.

BetterLesson Common Core Lesson Plans

The National Education Association (NEA) and BetterLesson have launched a new website, CC.BetterLesson, featuring over 3,000 CCSS-aligned lessons for math and English Language Arts & Literacy. Developed by over 130 current, experienced teachers for every grade level, the featured lessons include the teachers’ reflections and insights, student work examples, and an array of other supporting materials. Each Master Teacher involved in the project will continue to share their lessons throughout the year; by fall 2015, the site will feature over 16,000 lessons.

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The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

As one of the two state-led collaboratives developing new assessments that align with the Common Core Standards, PARCC received an $186 million Race to the Top grant. You will find a solid implementation page on its website with guides, webinars, workbooks, and more resources for the transition period. PARCC is a consortium of 24 states, and its assessments will be ready for states to administer for the 2014-15 school year.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

The other group that received a comparable sum in federal funding to create next-generation K-12 assessments is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Since we first published this article, Smarter Balanced launched a permanent website with a much heartier resource page, with various articles and links, and information about Race to the Top. Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium consists of twenty-two governing and five advisory states, and it's on a time line that's similar to PARCC's.

Educational Testing Service's Center for K-12 Assessment and Performance Management

Educational Testing Service (ETS) is now working with Smarter Balanced and PARCC on the new systems of assessment through its Center for K-12 Assessment and Performance Management. The K-12 center has created graphic illustrations to explain each of the two systems. (Download the PDF for PARCC or the PDF for Smarter Balanced.) The center also publishes webinars, reports, PowerPoint presentations, and a PDF guide on its work with PARCC and SBAC.

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Research Reports by the Educational Policy Improvement Center (EPIC)

Two interesting studies about Common Core can be found through EPIC. "Lining Up: The Relationship Between the Common Core State Standards and Five Sets of Comparison Standards" (PDF) compares the Common Core to existing standards, including standards from California, Texas, and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme, among others. For "Reaching the Goal: The Applicability and Importance of the Common Core State Standards to College and Career Readiness," (PDF) EPIC interviewed college instructors about how closely the standards match their courses.

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