Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Understanding The Common Core State Standards

If you have a child in school today, chances are you’ve heard something about the Common Core State Standards. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have decided to align their instruction to these standards, promising sweeping changes to classrooms across the country over the next several years.

What are the Common Core State Standards? Why are they important? Where did they come from? What is Southwestern Advantage’s connection to the Common Core? The answers to these critical questions will help parents understand exactly what the Common Core is all about, and what it means for your child’s education.


Common Core State Standards are a set of standards, not a curriculum.

The Common Core State Standards are a common set of educational standards defining the mathematics and English language arts knowledge and skills all United States students in grades K-12 need to be successfully prepared for college and the workforce in the 21st century.

The standards are not a step-by-step guide for classroom instruction; rather, they are an outline of the goals to be reached and skills to be mastered at every grade level and upon graduation. It is important to understand what educators mean when they use the word standards. Standards are the end goals for students. They are a list of skills and facts students need to acquire throughout the course of the school year.

The Common Core provides an expected destination, and schools and teachers are free to chart their own course to that destination. This is the important distinction between standards and curriculum. If you imagine standards as a destination, the curriculum is the map to get there. A curriculum outlines the sequence of topics that teachers will cover on their way to the final goal of the standards, building from simpler tasks to more difficult and complex ones.

For example, one of the Common Core math standards for eighth grade expects that at the end of that grade, a student should be able to:

“Construct a function to model a linear relationship between two quantities. Determine the rate of change and initial value of the function from a description of a relationship or from two (x, y) values, including reading these from a table or from a graph. Interpret the rate of change and initial value of a linear function in terms of the situation it models, and in terms of its graph or a table of values.”

In this example, teachers could have students model the relationship between any two variables (rainfall and wheat growth, age and height, inflation and GDP) and students would simply need to fit an equation to the data. Teachers could similarly build toward this end goal in any way they like, perhaps starting with the Cartesian coordinate plan and moving to reading tables and graphs, or vice versa, or even by an entirely different approach.

In short, the Common Core provides a destination, and schools and teachers are free to chart their own course there.


Preparing Students to Be Career and College Ready

The main focus of the Common Core is to increase academic rigor and prepare students for postsecondary career and college opportunities. This is a world in which a very high level of preparation in reading, writing, speaking, mathematics, science, literature, history, and the arts will be an indispensable foundation, and in which comfort with ideas and abstractions is the passport to a good job.

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.

The standards were developed to be:

· Aligned with expectations for college and career success

· Clear, so educators and parents know what they need to do to help students learn

· Consistent across all states, so students are not taught to a lower standard just because of where they live

· Based on both content and the application of knowledge through high-order skills

· Built upon strengths and lessons of current state standards and standards of top-performing nations

· Realistic for effective use in the classroom

· Informed by other top performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society

· Evidence and research-based criteria have been set by states through their national organizations CCSSO and the NGA Center


Improvement over the failed No Child Left Behind

Prior to the Common Core, each state had its own process for developing, adopting, and implementing standards. As a result, what students were expected to learn could vary widely from state to state.

The No Child Left Behind education law—passed with wide bipartisan support in 2001—required all states that received federal education funding to develop standards and tests in grades 3-8 and once again in high school. With the set goal of 100 percent proficiency in math and reading by 2014, schools were held accountable for improving the percentage of their students that were proficient as they headed towards that goal (known as Adequate Yearly Progress).

Under No Child Left Behind, if a state needed more students to clear a particular proficiency bar, it had two options. It could either do a better job educating students and let the students clear the bar themselves, or it could take the easy way out and simply lower the bar. Unfortunately, many states decided to take the latter option, redefining what it meant to be “proficient” and dumbing down their standards so more students could pass.

In response to this failing, a group of enterprising governors, including Democrats and Republicans, joined together through the National Governors Association to develop a common set of standards that all states could agree to join. They worked with a variety of experts in the field of education to draft and review the standards before opening them up for public comment and finalizing them. As a result, the Common Core was born.


Dedication to Excellence in 21st Century Learning

Southwestern Advantage understands the need for providing best-in-class educational materials that parents and students can rely on for an expert advantage in achieving these rigorous new learning expectations. We are committed to ensuring that students are successfully prepared for college and careers in a globally competitive world. All SkWids and Advantage content is correlated to the new Common Core Math and English Language Arts expectations for Kindergarten through grade 12.
These new K–12 standards are built on the most rigorous and effective learning models across the country and around the world. Because of the Southwestern Advantage focus on 21st century learning excellence, students and parents can count on and for an ongoing commitment to providing expert and relevant learning content in all subject areas for success in school and in life. 

You can also visit the conversation on our Facebook page to read some parents' opinions about Common Core, and join in by letting us know what your thoughts are. 

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