The Nuts & Bolts of the New Common Core State Standards

10 Facts for Educators & Parents

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1.  For the first time in American history, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will provide a general set of educational standards, focusing on critical thinking and analysis, for students across the country (or in the 46 states that have voted to adopt them).

“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy."

Previously, each state established its own content standards and assessment system; some believed this made it difficult to compare students from state to state, and nearly impossible to compete globally as a student’s zip code determined the type of education he received.

The CCSS were authored by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

2.  The CCSS are content standards only for K-12 English and math courses and states have voted to adopt none, one or both sets of the standards.  The CCSS make up 85% of the standards to be taught, each state then has the option to add up to 15% additional standards to customize their education based on their needs.

New national science standards, the Next Generation Science Standards, have been developed but not by the same groups that developed the CCSS.  The science standards can be adopted by each state just as the Common Core Standards; several states such as California, have already voted to adopt the new science standards as well but they are not part of "Common Core" standards.

3.  The CCSS are internationally benchmarked, meaning they were developed using data from successful educational systems around the world to determine which standards are developmentally appropriate to teach at each grade level and which are necessary to teach in order to compete globally.

4.  Ambiguity was one of the complaints of previous state standards so the CCSS clarify and elaborate on several standards:


*The previous California Content Standard for English (3.2) “Comprehend basic plots of fairy tales, myths, folktales, legends and fables.”

*The new Common Core State Standard for English (3.2) “Recount stories, including fables, folktales and myths from diverse cultures; determine the central message, lesson or moral and explain how it is conveyed using key details from the text.”

5.  The new Common Core math standards ask for fewer concepts to be taught but that each topic is taught in more depth, particularly in the elementary grades.

The new standards focus on 8 mathematical practices:

*Make sense of problems and persevere to solve them

*Reason abstractly and quantitatively

*Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others

*Model with mathematics

*Use appropriate tools strategically

*Attend to precision

*Look for and make use of structure

*Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning

One of the criticisms of the previous math standards was that the same topics were taught year after year with some not being taught in the order in which they were needed.

The new standards have a ‘spiral effect’ meaning that a concept is taught that is necessary and connected to the next concept.  For example, students in seventh grade will be taught to master ratios and proportions via real world examples such as in calculating interest, because those concepts are necessary to understanding the upcoming equations. The new CCSS focus on the student developing a better understanding of mathematical practices instead of primarily memorizing mathematical procedures.

6.  There are 2 assessment choices that states can adopt; one comes from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), the other from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).  In 2015, states will administer whichever test they chose via computer, though there is discussion that hard-copy versions will also be made available, as many schools do not have the technological infrastructure to support school-wide computerized testing. Visit: and for sample test questions.

7.  Several private and charter schools, who operate with nearly full autonomy and are not bound by many state adopted educational guidelines, are transitioning to the CCSS because many college entrance exams and standardized tests, such as the SATs, are being aligned to the new standards.

8.  The Common Core State Standards are not a national curriculum.  Standards are not curriculum; standards merely identify what students should know and be able to do by the end of the school year, while curriculum chosen by teachers and districts, defines exactly how the standards will be taught (using specific texts and assignments).

For example, Standard 5:10 of the new CCSS for English in grade 5 reads:

“By the end of the year, students will read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, at the high end of the grades 4-5 text complexity band, both independently and proficiently.”

This standard does not specify how or what teachers are to do to accomplish this, as that would be the curriculum. Districts and/or teachers can choose which curriculum they want to use to teach this standard. (“5 Myths About the Common Core State Standards,” Robert Rothman, Harvard Graduate School of Education)

9.  The CCSS promotes a balance between fiction and non-fiction literacy and instruction.  The recommendation to K-5 educators is to teach each genre equally (50/50). This does not mean that educators should spend 50% of the time in novels and 50% of time in textbooks; it means that if a class reads The Little Red Hen, a fiction piece, then supplement it with non-fiction readings about hens and farm animals, or baking bread, etc., to provide some of the factual background knowledge referenced in the story.

Previously in the early elementary grades, fiction was often taught far more than non-fiction, which created a literacy gap when it came to non-fiction or “content area literacy.”  Since we live in the Information Age and the information is non-fiction, research recommends a balanced diet of the two genres from the earliest ages to best prepare students for high school and beyond.

The CCSS recommends a 70% non-fiction emphasis in grades 9-12, which realistically, is already in place as fiction is often read in the English class (accounting for approximately 30% of the overall reading in high school), while non-fiction reading tends to dominate the other content area classes.

10.  Though only the math and English standards have changed under the CCSS, there are new content literacy and critical thinking standards for history, science and other technical classes.  This means that ALL teachers will be responsible for teaching literacy and critical thinking, not just the math and English teachers.

The new content literacy standards for all subject areas emphasize 21st Century critical thinking and writing skills, in addition to the content.

Julie Adams, Adams Educational Consulting,


Bill Honig: Why CA Likes the Common Core Standards

Common CoreJulie Adams