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How Will Common Core Change What We Do?

Erin Powers

Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist
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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.

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Erin Powers

Education Consultant and Literacy Specialist

Comments (32) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

noellerapozogmailcom - 268991's picture

I really appreciate your blog on the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). In my district we've been doing a lot of work around CCSS. At my site we've begun informing our school community about what's coming down the pike to help them better prepare for the change. The verbiage in which you used to describe CCSS, has helped me to better articulate the ideas behind CCSS to fellow teachers, my students and my parent community. I've already started implementing some of the strategies into my instruction. However, I'm finding that my number one challenge is the time. I've spent countless hours finding and creating instructional materials and homework to align to the revised standards. I guess that's going to have to be something we work on as a district. But does that mean each district and state creates their own supplemental instructional materials. Doesn't that take away from the idea that we are going to be moving in a common direction?

Tammy Stephens's picture


In my state - Kentucky - we worked in Regional Content Networks to better understand the intended learning of each standard. We then used a process from Classroom Assessment for Learning to break down the knowledge, reasoning, performance skills and products required by each standard. For those of us involved directly with the process, I think after incredibly lengthy debate, the intent of the standards are clear. If I need a reminder, I return to the deconstructed standards posted on our website, write the common assessment and then think about what instruction students will need. Ideally, we want this process to occur in Professional Learning Teams because the deep understanding can occur only when we "grapple" with qualified colleagues. I know this process is not happening in many of our schools because teachers continue to use the materials and resources they have used for years and they are not adjusting their assessments and instruction. At this rate, I fear we will never get to the place where ALL teachers have a deep understanding of what students need to be able to do to be successful. As for me, I am providing feedback to teachers and principals daily.

Linda's picture

My district held a Common Core PLC last summer. This group had an overall training and content specific training. by Common Core presenters. The PLC became the trainers for their schools. A common core monthly meeting is held to focus on a specific area that is then turn keyed to school staff monthly. The PLC consist of teachers, administrators, directors and supervisors. The math and EL curriculums have been aligned to the common core. Other departments have been provided professional development on their role in the common core. Professional deveolopment is ongoing throughout the district.

Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Edcamper, Former @Edutopia, Founder of Social Media Marketing Consultancy aimed at helping educational orgs.

Great question Stephanie. I interact daily with many many educators that are confused by the CCSS. The CCSS really are just the end objectives (kind of like at the end of this year, you'll need to do x). The means are the curricula created to achieve these new standards. WIth that said, developing different curricula is definitely ok (and encouraged!) if they achieve the same standards defined by CCSS.

We're actually in the midst of releasing a free guide that describes the CCSS in more detail and manages to shrink the 80 page document to 10 pages (and that's really 2-3 pages if it wasn't nicely designed with big images).

More to come and thanks again for the great question -- it inspired an interesting talk within our team here at Edutopia.

[quote]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?[/quote]

Monty Neill's picture
Monty Neill
Executive Director of FairTest

This from the just released new MET survey of teachers, as reported on the Washington Post Answer Sheet. Teachers are not buying that CC will improve education.

*Teachers and principals are more likely to be very confident that teachers have the ability to implement the Common Core (53% of teachers; 38% of principals) than they are very confident that the Common Core will improve the achievement of students (17% of teachers; 22% of principals) or better prepare students for college and the workforce (20% of teachers; 24% of principals)."

Jim Kelly's picture
Jim Kelly
Providing OER resource links to improve k-12th grade mathematics.

While teachers are the "Managers" of classroom information, their primary resource is still the classroom textbook (be it in paper or online form). Where is the survey on well textbooks are doing to meet standards? Teachers can only be as effective as the resources they have to work with.

Barbie Jo's picture
Barbie Jo
Kinder through 5th grade science teacher

I think that the text book is a big part of the problem with meeting the new standards that are set up by the CCSS. I know in my school the text books do not allign with the standards at all, and alot of the things that need to be taught are not even a part of the text book. I donot see how the CCSS can be successfully rolled out when the disrticts are not ready to receive them.

Samer Rabadi's picture
Samer Rabadi
Online Community Engagement Manager

It's a been almost a year since this blog post was first published, and people are now living with Common Core. I would be interested to know how it's been going for the Edutopia community.

Teachers, parents, administrator--What are you finding? What's changed for you, and how is your school, district, state adapting?

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

New Hampshire Public Radio did an interesting series of pieces on the ways that schools in New Hampshire were getting ready for the Common Core. (You can hear the culminating piece here: One thing that seemed clear, even then, was that teachers who were comfortable with good pbl and/ or interdisciplinary instruction felt more prepared. I'm curious to see if that trend has been born out.

Dennis Pack's picture

Interested in what assessment could look like? Check out this website which is part of the South Australian Certificate of Education. We have been using an assessment system for years that is suitable for your CCSS. Have a look at the assessment document for this Stage 2 (Year 12) Biology topic Ecosystems ( The wide range of different styles of questions is something lacking in the US education system. I find them to be good assessment tasks ... and they help guide teachers in their choice of how and what to teach.

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