A young teacher sits down to write her lesson plans for the week and all she turns out is a pile of numbers and letters: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.1 and CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.1.2. In reality, she is beginning to put together the standards that she will include in her lesson, an integral part of lesson planning in most schools today. Those jumbles of numbers and letters stand for skills that she hopes her students will learn throughout the course of that lesson. But, what do those standards really mean?
There’s a lot of talk lately about the common core state standards. Forty-four out of fifty states have adopted these standards, using them to establish clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Have you noticed that your child is doing something radically different from his cousins (even if they go to a school a block away from each other)? While your child is tackling fractions in fifth grade, your sister’s son is starting on simple algebra. Your child is learning about thesis statements in third grade, while his cousin is learning about parallel structure. This often works well when students move within the same school, but what happens when they finish high school? Do they come out with the same skills and knowledge?
The common core state standards website explains that “today’s students are preparing to enter a world in which colleges and businesses are demanding more than ever before…The standards were drafted by experts and teachers from across the country and are designed to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs. The Common Core focuses on developing the critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills students will need to be successful.”
According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the standards are:
- Research and evidence based
- Clear, understandable and consistent
- Aligned with college and career expectations
- Based on rigorous content and the application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills
- Built upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards
- Informed by other top-performing countries to prepare all students for success in our global economy and society
According to the best available evidence, the mastery of each standard is essential for success in college, career and life in today’s global economy. The standards set grade-specific goals for kindergarten through eighth grade and then group goals for ninth and tenth grade together, and eleventh and twelfth grade together.
Standardization is the key element of the common core state standards, but there are a lot of myths and facts that surround them. I’ve outlined some of the most important ones:
Myth: The standards are all about skills and do not include content.
Fact: While the standards are mostly about skills, there are specific content areas as well. For example, the English language arts has required reading in America’s founding documents, important American literature and Shakespeare.
Math, on the other hand, has several key content areas: whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals. These lay the foundation for algebra, geometry, trigonometry and even calculus in later grades.
Myth: The standards are a curriculum.
Fact: The standards help create a curriculum, but are not a curriculum in and of themselves. Each teacher can decide how to best aid his or her students in mastering the skills and content required by the standards. There is no “right” way to implement the skills, but there are “right” skills with which students should exit each grade.
Myth: Because of the standards, English language arts teachers will no longer be able to teach fiction. They will need to use texts about science or history.