There’s a big change happening in American education. It’s called the Common Core State Standards initiative. This is a movement by states to start using the same set of academic standards in public schools.
Standards mean what students are expected to know. For instance, here’s a math standard: Students should be able to tell time in hours and half-hours by the end of first grade. The Common Core is a set of standards for what every student should learn in each grade level, from kindergarten through high school. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) cover math and English language arts. So far, more than 40 states and the District of Columbia have adopted CCSS.
“By using the same standards, states can get a better sense of how their students measure up against students in other states.”
One goal of Common Core is to help students graduate with the skills they need to succeed in college and in the workforce. Another goal is to make sure students are getting a strong education, no matter which state they live in.
By using the same standards, states can get a better sense of how their students measure up against students in other states.
Why are so many states switching over to these new standards?
Until now, states and school districts have mostly set their own standards for what students should learn in each grade. There have been efforts and even laws to try to make those standards consistent from one state to the next. But some states raised standards while others didn’t.
The result was confusion. A student might have been considered proficient (or pretty good) in reading in one state. But the same student wasn’t even meeting basic reading standards in another state. Concerns about the mishmash of state standards grew as U.S. students scored poorly or just average on international tests.
Business leaders were concerned too. Education plays a key role in growing the economy. Employers have said that they’re having trouble finding enough skilled workers in the United States. They’ve also said the U.S. could fall behind in innovation.
State governors and education leaders decided they needed to do something. So they came together and created the Common Core State Standards. They also brought in teachers, parents and other education experts to help work on the Standards.
What makes Common Core State Standards controversial?
A handful of states have chosen not to adopt the Standards. Others have threatened to stop using them. There are two main reasons for the opposition:
- Some Common Core opponents say states were all but forced to adopt the Standards. That’s because during the recent economic downturn, the federal government encouraged states to adopt the Standards to get additional funding for schools. Many cash-strapped states went along.
- Other critics say teachers aren’t being given enough time to prepare for the new standards. Also, although the Common Core doesn’t require standardized testing, tests are being developed by states. And some critics oppose standardized testing in general.
In a lot of cases, the controversy swirling around Common Core isn’t about the Standards themselves. It’s about the way they were adopted by states or rolled out in schools.
What are schools doing to get ready for the Common Core?
The states that have signed on to use Common Core are working together to create standardized tests to measure student achievement. Most states are scheduled to start using the Standards by the 2014–2015 school year. Some of these states are also planning to use the new tests. But a few states, including New York, have said they’re delaying parts of the Standards, such as testing. They say more time is needed.
Schools are also updating curricula, which are the programs for how students are taught. Schools want to make sure what they’re teaching is in line with the Standards. Common Core places a lot of emphasis on the variety and complexity of reading. Students will probably read more nonfiction, like news articles, web pages and biographies.
How does Common Core affect students with learning and attention issues?
The concept of academic standards isn’t new. Students who are struggling will face many of the same issues with Common Core that they faced before. Both general and special education teachers should get training and support to help teach to the Standards.
Switching over to Common Core may affect children who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). For example, take a student who is in a self-contained class where most students are reading below grade level. The student will still be expected to have IEP goals related to the Standards for the grade that he’s in. In some cases, annual goals may need to be more clearly linked to the Standards. In states that are already using IEPs based on other standards, IEPs will need to be aligned with CCSS.
If you’re concerned about how Common Core will affect your child’s education, talk with your child’s teacher. Schools in many states are making a lot of changes right now because of the new standards, and some details may still need to be worked out. But getting more information can help smooth the transition.