What Every Parent Needs to Know About Common Core Standards
You will hear teachers and administrators talking about “Common Core,” the national curriculum being phased in to Anne Arundel County Schools. We have the lowdown on what the standards are, and what parents need to know about the changes. First, a look back. [Oh, no! not a history lesson!] Yes, sorry — its part of the story.
No Child Left Behind
For about a decade, the focus in American education has been on “No Child Left Behind (NCLB).” That 2001 congressional act started a movement towards setting universal standards for American public schools. States had to take a measurement of student progress through standardized testing administered by each state.
The punishment for states and school districts that weren’t performing (lots of students at a given school who couldn’t pass the test) was the threat that federal funding to schools would be reduced-or eliminated-if school districts and states didn’t take (sometimes drastic) measures to improve student learning.
In Maryland, one of the things that grew out of NCLB was the Maryland State Assessment, or MSA, a test given each spring to all Maryland students in grades 3 through 8. The feds did not come up with the materials to test. That was left to the states. The tests generally covered math and language arts. A separate science test was added in recent years in grades 5 and 8.
The standards were applied in the classroom through the state’s “Voluntary State Curriculum” or VSC. It wasn’t really voluntary. This was the stuff kids had to learn. In addition, the standards weren’t outlandish. They simply set out what students should know at the completion of each grade. The standards were age and grade appropriate.
Voluntary State Curriculum (VSC) Standards
- Second grade math: students need to know about money, place value, adding three-digit whole numbers and solving word problems in addition and subtraction.
- Sixth grade math: students should know about collecting and analyzing statistical data, plane geometric figures and measurements and the formulas for converting measurements in both customary and metric units.
- Kindergarten language arts: students should understand phonics (decoding words in grade-level texts), they should begin to understand written language, to begin using grammar concepts in writing.
- Fifth grade language arts: students should have fluency in oral readings of grade-level text, and the ability to classify and categorize complex words into sets, be able to write using organizational structures, proper grammar, usage and mechanics.
The Maryland VSC as it is currently implemented has been in place for about 10 years. The VSC is being phased out for the new curriculum: Common Core State Standards (CCSC).
For parents particularly, MSA testing, while anxiety producing, has delivered a good data set about schools. There was a lot of talk initially about teachers “teaching to the test,” but the tests have turned out to be a great marker for how a given school is performing. All of the data is public, so parents can see comparisons of schools within a geographic area, within a single school district or even between school districts in the same state.
In Anne Arundel County, testing and the VSC is credited with moving the needle on the achievement gap (the difference in performance between low income and minority students and their wealthier counterparts). The tests gave administrators great information about teachers and curriculum successes-and failures, essentially providing a road-map for course correction.
But the problem with having each state set its own standards meant that students who transferred out of state might meet a different set of standards. Students who change schools frequently because their parents are military, for example, might come across three or four different standards throughout an academic career.
Here in the Old Line state, standards are high. A student transferring out of Maryland schools to another state might have met the new state’s standard and graduation requirement as early as 10th grade.
And we aren’t even talking about how colleges look at the data across state lines. College admissions offices know which states have a high bar and which don’t push academic rigor.
So in 2011, the timing of things was right to take a broader view of standards. Because the “No Child Left Behind” legislation was set for renewal, it was a great opportunity to see where educational goals could go next. What became clear was that a set of national standards could level out expectations across state lines, and state governors got together and formed a committee to see if this sort of thing could happen and be universally accepted.
Adopting ‘Common Core’
That is where “Common Core” comes in. You will hear a lot about Common Core in the coming years. Common Core standards are the new VSC. They were developed through an independent initiative coordinated by the National Governor’s Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).
Common Core has been developed with help from colleges, businesses, industry, civil rights groups, English language learners and students with disabilities. These folks are referred to as “Educational Stakeholders.”
Their interest in education is to prepare public school students for college and a 21st Century workforce.
The group building the standards pulled data and curriculum from the highest, most effective curriculum models from states—including Maryland—and around the world.
What Common Core should help to deliver are rigorous guidelines that can provide a challenging learning environment for students. Common Core are a little more broad and the concepts carry through for each grade. The standards are loose enough to challenge students (and teachers), but specific enough to provide structure.
Read the new standards for yourself:
In Maryland, the standards are being applied beginning this school year. The Maryland State Assessment will eventually be phased out in favor of a new national test based on Common Core standards. An organization called PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) is developing the national assessment that Maryland will adopt.
Currently Maryland and 45 other states have opted into Common Core. The states that have NOT adopted it include: Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia.
Students can continue to learn out of current textbooks—teachers will simply tweak lesson plans to meet Common Core.
So when your child’s teacher suddenly assigns homework practicing cursive writing in fifth grade-and you know your older child never did any such thing-you know who is to blame: Common Core (and yes, cursive writing is a part of the fifth grade Common Core requirement).
Teachers will be receiving professional development and training to implement the changes. Common Core will be phased in by grade and subject area over the next few years.
If you have questions regarding the new standards, feel free to talk to your child’s teacher or your school principal for more information.