What Parents Should Know

An Overview

The world is a place of constant change. Global interconnectedness and competitiveness have redefined what today’s students need to know to be ready for college and careers.

This wonderful new age, with all its opportunities, also comes with new challenges. Students must now learn high-level skills in English and math to shape both their career choices/futures, and also to influence the economic vitality of the United States. Here is a truth all parents need to know about their child’s education: Not since the Industrial Revolution (the 18th Century) have our children been faced with such high expectations for learning.

As you know, a solid K–12 education is the engine that drives the preparedness of your child for college and the future workforce. You’ve likely read or heard about students from the United States not performing as well as their counterparts in other countries in key, job-related skills. Educators in K-12 grades across the country know this struggle first-hand, and have been proactive in creating an effective response to these critical concerns.

First launched in April 2009, the Common Core State Standards Initiative was conceived by educators and representatives from individual states to identify and develop college- and career-readiness standards for grades K-12. The Initiative defined what students are expected to know, and be able to do, when they graduate from high school. These measures were then benchmarked against international standards to ensure your student would have the skills and knowledge needed for success in a global, competitive market.

This state-driven initiative was created from grassroots, individual professional educator efforts; and, by design, did not include participation by the federal government. The final version of the Common Core State Standards was introduced at the state level in June 2010. By September 2012, 46 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. territories had adopted the Common Core State Standards. States also organized themselves to design and develop next-generation assessments to measure student learning aligned with the Common Core State Standards, with the target of the assessments being administered by the 2014–15 school year.

Facts about Common Core Standards for Parents

The Common Core State Standards are actually a set of learning skills that all students should be able to achieve. Common Core is not a federal curriculum. The standards in Common Core State Standards set learning benchmarks and guidelines for what each student should learn, [AT THEIR APPROPRIATE GRADE LEVEL]. The professional educators who teach your son or daughter, your local school district, and the state will use Common Core State Standards as a base to create their own lesson plans, district curriculum and state assessments.

Common Core Standards are like a warehouse, chock-full of the very best basic ingredients for a well-rounded, good-tasting, healthy diet. How schools and teachers use these basic ingredients (core standards) is up to them. They can use any recipes they want to cook up good, nutritious meals (lessons). Common Core is just the place where they find the basic foods, essential vitamins, minerals, sugar, and spice (common core standards) they need to prepare the meals (learning) on which students will thrive.

The standards set up a coherent progression of skills and knowledge that students should learn as they move through school. Concepts build naturally on skills and learning mastered in class the previous year. For instance, kindergarteners will work on recognizing the shape and sounds of letters, while eighth graders will work on building vocabulary and reading fluency. One skill will build upon another in a logical, sequential pattern based on research connected with learning readiness and common sense.

RESOURCE: Read the English-language arts standards and the math standards at the Common Core web site.

One routine complaint about previous, individual state standards came from teachers. They knew students were learning only a “portion” of too many topics in a year. The result was their students didn’t fully understand important concepts or “dig deep” into a topic. “The learning was a mile wide and an inch deep,” the educators said. The Common Core State Standards focus on the most important topics that students need to know. For example, math students in elementary school focus on a thorough understanding of what numbers are and how they work. In middle school, students can start to apply this basic understanding of numbers to creating meaningful data and solving higher-level problems. CCSS will ask students to learn more difficult material earlier in their schooling and with greater depth and understanding.

In our fourth grade math, we try to teach more than 40 objectives while the Japanese only teach the 25 most important. The rest of the world has a curriculum that is set at the national level. As a result, their curriculum demands students in the seventh and eighth grade take algebra, geometry, chemistry and physics. Here in the United States, we allow so much local freedom in what subjects are taught, and at what grade level, that some students end up never taking more challenging courses. For example, by eighth grade, only some of our students have had algebra and virtually none have had geometry, chemistry and physics. U.S. high school graduates have no requirement that they just take all these courses. Unfortunately, our kids can’t learn what they’re not taught.  –Carl Peterson

Reading comprehension is a major focus of the new Common Core State Standards. As implemented through the grades, students will be expected to read more difficult passages and challenging books at a younger age. Most important, a student will develop the skill to talk or write about what they read at a more complex level. Your son or daughter will master basic reading skills like understanding characters, plot, and setting much earlier in their schooling. As a result, younger students will be developing higher-level reading skills, such as comparing the stories they read to real life; and, using their own understanding of text elements, to theorize on higher-level concepts such as character motivation, human behavior and situational ethics.

Another Common Core emphasis is on learning relevance. Your son or daughter will be able to see the relationship between what they are learning, and what they will need to know to be successful later in life. To prepare students for college-level work, there will be a greater focus on being able to read and write routine communications like directions, explanations, reports, technical text, and research findings. Common Core State Standards will expect 11-and-12-year-old students to be reading informational text with “understanding and comprehension.” This would even include original documents like the Declaration of Independence and presidential speeches.

RESOURCE: PTA guide for parents

Perhaps nothing will have a greater effect on both students and parents than Common Core State Standards assessment. Testing will be more authentic, relevant and related to the learning. Instead of multiple-choice tests, students will be analyzing and synthesizing information, writing essay responses, and answering in-depth questions to show how much they understand and can use the materials presented in class. Testing will favor understanding and explanation over memorization. Math students will need to show how they solve problems as well as write a correct answer.

Finally, parents need to know the Common Core State Standards were designed with the workplace in mind. As a result, students will do more than learn science facts. They will also learn what scientists, historians, researchers, and other professions do each day in our society. The CCSS go beyond math facts to emphasize how a mathematician works on problems; and, how they persevere, sometimes for many years, to solve a difficult question. Keeping the workplace in mind means students will also learn how, when, and why to critique the reasoning of others. They will know that discipline, hard work, and creativity are all characteristics of people who are successful in their professions. The result will be that someday as your child works through his/her homework, you might be asked to connect your child’s “thinking in school” to the math and problem-solving techniques you use every day on the job.

As the Common Core State Standards start to be implemented in schools, there will be some changes, but many things will stay the same. Teachers will still create their own lesson plans and have great freedom to meet the individual needs of your child. The most important aspect of your child’s success at school, as always, is to stay in contact with your child’s teacher and principal to find out how you can support this latest educational advancement at home.

RESOURCE: Learn more from NSPRA