Education Trends

Introducing the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards

Career and college readiness for the 21st century

November 30, 2011

Brenda Overturf is a member of the International Reading Association's Board of Directors. You can reach her at boverturf[AT]reading[DOT]org.

In this series of three posts, we aim to provide an overview of the ELA Common Core State Standards (ELA CCSS) to inform educators, parents, and community members about basic concepts and implementation.

In this first post, we will introduce the ELA CCSS and provide context to those who are new to the standards. In the second post, we will go into further detail on the key features of the ELA CCSS and discuss the opportunities that they provide. In the third post, we will take a look at how various states are starting to implement the standards. (While these posts will make many references to CCSS, we will primarily be discussing the ELA CCSS.)

College and Career Readiness

Many educators across the country are beginning to learn about and implement the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards. A state-led initiative by the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), the English Language Arts CCSS so far have been approved by 46 states plus Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. (Note: Minnesota has adopted the ELA CCSS, though not the mathematic standards.) The underlying purpose of the CCSS is to make sure that our students are "college and career ready" by the time they graduate from high school. The CCSS encompass kindergarten to twelfth grade as a staircase, with each grade building on the standards from the previous year.

Educators and other stakeholders new to the ELA Common Core State Standards should begin by reading through the website created by the CCSSO and NGA to help guide them through the transition. The site provides an overview of the process, the Standards themselves, and three appendices. The appendices provide essential information with supporting research (Appendix A), text exemplars and sample performance tasks (Appendix B), and samples of student writing (Appendix C).

A Snapshot of the Standards

We encourage educators to keep in mind a few key principles when reading through the documents:

  • The CCSS are just that -- standards. They are not a national curriculum, an instructional framework for how to teach reading, or an assessment program.
  • The K-12 Standards are building blocks to the anchor standards for College and Career Readiness and therefore have connections to real life applications, including an interdisciplinary approach to literacy and content area knowledge.
  • The CCSS are likely more rigorous, with higher expectations, than many earlier state standards. For example, when viewing the writing samples in Appendix C, the grade level expectations may be quite different than earlier standards.
  • In reading, the CCSS focus on analyzing text. This includes gathering, comprehending, evaluating, synthesizing and reporting on ideas.
  • The CCSS assume the same expectations and opportunities for English language learners and students with special needs, yet recognize some students will need additional support.

For the English Language Arts, the key features of the standards include reading (literature, informational text, foundational skills K-5), writing, speaking/listening, and language (including conventions and vocabulary). For grades 6-12, the focus also includes Literacy in History/Social Studies and Literacy in Science and Technical subjects.

Technology is integrated throughout the CCSS rather than positioned in a stand-alone section. As stated in the ELA overview, the goal for students is "they are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals (p.7)."

Key Concepts for Educators

For educators seeking more information on the CCSS, the Hunt Institute and the Council of Chief State School Officers commissioned this series of video vignettes to explain the Standards. Similarly, the National PTA collaborated with the CCSS experts to provide information for parents, including grade-by-grade guides.

When reading and learning more about the Standards, certain concepts are appearing frequently: text complexity, grade by grade staircase, argumentation, informational texts, text exemplars, interdisciplinary learning, close reading of text, textual evidence, and integrating information. These are some of the key concepts educators will undertake in the upcoming years and will be part of many discussions as everyone engages in implementing the core ideas of the CCSS.

In our next blog, we get to the heart of the CCSS, exploring the key features that distinguish these standards from earlier efforts.

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