What are the Common Core State Standards?
They are a set of learning goals for kindergarten through 12th grade aimed at preparing all students for college or a career. This year, only 25 percent of high school graduates who took the ACT college entrance exam achieved scores indicating they were ready for college level work.
So far, standards have been written for two subjects, English language arts and math. Efforts also are underway to develop standards for science and social studies.
How are the standards different from existing learning goals?
The main difference is that they require more challenging intellectual activity—for example, framing and conducting investigations and integrating content from a variety of sources. In a first, the standards are aligned with learning standards in countries that outpace the United States on international tests, namely Finland, Hong Kong, South Korea, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Netherlands, and Switzerland. These nations were found to provide their students with a comprehensive, content-rich education in the liberal arts and sciences whereas the United States provided a very narrow and basic education. Studies have shown that teaching that centers on preparation for basic skills tests produces lower results than teaching that aims higher.
Generally, in math the standards emphasize problem formulation and solution as well as reasoning. English language arts standards emphasize reading for information, research and writing skills as well as individual interpretation and using technology.
The goals also are linked so that those at one level lay the foundation for those at the next.
If the standards spark the intended changes, they will transform American education.
Who wrote the standards?
The effort was organized by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers in partnership with other organizations such as Achieve, Inc., ACT and the College Board.
Why did states take the lead?
The experience with testing under No Child Left Behind convinced most state leaders that it made no sense for each state to set its own standards and develop its own tests. For one, students tended to score well on the state tests but poorly on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is administered to samples of students in each state and some cities to show trends.
Further, previous efforts to develop a national test that would be given to all students were blocked by an unusual political alliance of generally conservative congressmen who support local control and more liberal congressmen who see testing as a big part of the country’s education problem. So the advocates for a Common Core knew the federal government could not be involved. Forty-four states—including Illinois—and Washington D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have adopted the standards. The federal government gave a shove by basing eligibility for Race to the Top funds in part on adoption of the Common Core or similar standards.
How will the standards be implemented?
That is up to each state and district. Educators will be expected to examine their existing curricula, materials and practices to see whether they are aimed at the standards—and make adjustments if they are not. Some organizations are promoting shared curricula and materials—so everyone doesn’t have to reinvent the same wheel. Others contend that such consolidation will stifle creativity. Textbook publishing companies can be expected to develop new programs.
How will the standards be measured?
States voluntarily created two consortia to develop assessments, and the federal government invested $350 million in the effort. Illinois belongs to PARCC, the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.
In general, the new assessments will require students to apply what they've learned and explain their answers rather than simply pick from a menu of responses.
PARCC is to be in place for the school year 2014-15. Illinois students in grades 6 through 11 will take the assessment online. Students in grades 3 through 5 will use paper and pencil.
PARCC will spread assessment throughout the year so that teachers get better feedback on how their students are learning. Assessments will be administered roughly quarterly, with the first two assessments serving largely as a guide to future teaching (formative assessments) and the final two a summing up (summative assessment).
What is Chicago doing?
Although full implementation of the Common Core State Standards is not required until 2013-2014, the district invited schools to begin forging a path this school year. Eighty schools applied and 35 were chosen to serve as early adopter “lead” schools and 25 as early adopter “support” schools.
Early adopter schools will create and share examples of standards-based unit plans, grade-level tasks and exemplars of student work that will help guide schools across CPS in implementing the Common Core beginning in 2012-2013. Here is the presentation from their kickoff meeting.
More broadly, the administration has laid out a professional development plan for leaders of the new school networks and required every school to form an instructional leadership team—all aimed in the direction of the Common Core.
This fall, CPS launched new quarterly assessments in literacy and math for students in grades 2 through 8 to help educators and parents understand the levels at which students will be expected to perform under the Common Core and to help schools and teachers adapt their work.
Beginning next spring, students in 9th, 10th and 11th grades will take new tests that are to align with ACT and College Readiness Standards.
In addition, the Chicago Teachers Union Quest Center received a three-year, $600,000 grant from the American Federation of Teachers to hire teams of teacher leaders to partner with the union’s curriculum and instruction experts to create model units of instruction, classroom performance assessments, and materials aligned to the new, higher standards.