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What Parents Should Know About the Common Core Standards

You will be, or maybe have already, heard a lot being said about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the Iowa Core State Standards.  These sets of standards are identical, except that the Iowa Core contains a few additional standards.  As schools begin implementing these new standards into our curriculum, it is important to make sure that, as a parent, you are part of the conversation.

There may be several questions you have about the CCSS.  Below are some frequently asked questions:

1.  What are the Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Stands are a set of expectation that outline what students should be learning at each grade level (K-12) in each curricular area.

2.  What is the goal of the CCSS?

The goal of the CCSS is to make sure that all students are well prepared for college, technical education, or the workplace after high school graduation.

3.  Do the standards tell teachers how to teach?

No.  The CCSS do not tell teachers how to teach; they simply outline the skills that all students should master.  For example, the CCSS do not tell teachers which books should be taught in fourth-grade English/language arts, but they do say that each fourth grader should learn how to identify "a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text" or "summarize the text."

4.  Are their standards for all curriculum areas?

Not yet.  Social studies and science are beginning to roll out.  Vocational classes do not have CCSS.  However, there are a set of 21st Century standards that relate to all curriculum areas.

5.  Why were the CCSS created?

Before CCSS each individual state had its own set of educational standards, and there was little consistency from state to state. With CCSS, students nationwide have access to the same rigorous academic content. They will help ensure that all students are receiving a high quality education consistently, from school to school and state to state.  CCSS can provide parents with clear expectation for what children should know and be able to do when they graduate from high school.  In addition, evidence-based standards will more effectively prepare American students to keep up with their peers around the world.

6.  Who wrote the standards?

The CCSS were not developed by the federal government, but by a group of educators and experts coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).  The federal government will not oversee the implementation of the CCSS.

7.  How will student progress in meeting the standards be measured?

As of now, it is not clear how students' progress toward meeting the standards will be measured or assessed; however, because the U.S. Constitution gives individual states the right to oversee education, participating states will likely be in charge of any testing that is done for the purpose of monitoring student progress.

Iowa has not decided on the specific assessment yet.  Currently the state uses Iowa Assessments.  Smarter Balance is another test company that is creating assessments for the CCSS.  Southwest Valley MS is also looking into standards-based grading - a system that will show parents if their student is meeting the standards for each grade level.

8.  What does CCSS look like in the classroom?

CCSS are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what students need to learn, but they will not dictate how teachers should teach.  Common Core standards are not curriculum.  Teachers and schools will continue to devise curriculum, including lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of each students.

9. What are the new shift in English/language arts?

Non-fiction makes up the majority of required reading in high school, college and the workplace. Since information text is harder for students to understand that narrative text, more instructional time is needed to practice.  The recommended time spent on literary texts to informational texts at the elementary level is 50/50; at the middle level is 45/55 and at the high school level is 30/70.

An emphasis on reading, writing and speaking based on evidence is another shift.  This became part of the CCSS because most college and workplace writing requires evidence, being able to take a position or inform others through citing evidence.

The shift to regular practice with complex texts and academic language occurred because research showed that there is a gap in the difficulty of what students read by the end of high school and what they are required to read in both college and careers.

For all of these shifts, the emphasis is on reading more complex texts.  The features of complex text include density of information, multiple and/or subtle themes and purposes, unfamiliar settings or events, complex sentences, uncommon vocabulary, longer paragraphs and a text structure that is less narrative.

10.  What are the new shifts for math?

In math, instructional shifts focus on fewer, more central standards, building core understandings and linking mathematical concepts to real-world skills.  In developing the shifts in math, the designers of the standards moved away from what has been termed the "mile wide and an inch deep" approach to math instruction in the United States.

The CCSS for mathematics stress conceptual understanding of key ideas and organizing principles of math such as place value or the laws of arithmetic.  The standards are designed to allow student to progress through mathematics in a coherent way, building skills within and across grades.

The CCSS defines what students should be able to do in mathematics through grade-specific standards, emphasizing speed, accuracy and real-life problem-solving skills.

11.  How can I help my child at home?

Learning does not end in the classroom.  Children need help and support at home to succeed in their studies.  Try to create a quiet place for your student to study and carve out time every day when your child can concentrate on reading, writing and math uninterrupted by friends, cell phone, TV or other distractions.  Keep informed about what your child is working on.  This will help you know if your child needs help. If your student needs extra help, work with his or her teacher to find opportunities for tutoring, to get involved in RAVE after school, or to find other resources.

Parents can support their student's success by asking their student to talk about what they are learning, read to and with your kids, and providing opportunities to learn new things at home or in the community.  By being informed about the new standards, you will be better prepared to help your child make this important transition.

Resources:

National Parent Teacher Association.  www.pta.org/parents/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2583

American Federation of Teachers.  www.aft.org/issues/standards/webinar.cfm and www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/ColorinColorado_CCSS_links.pdf

National Education Association.  www.neatoday.org/2013/05/10/six-ways-the-common-core-is-good-for-students/

New York State Education Department. www.EngageNY.org

New York State PTA

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