Examining the Common Core State Standards

Special to the OBSERVER

Parents of children in elementary, middle or high school have undoubtedly heard about Common Core State Standards. Even if people do not have school-age children, most likely they have run across articles in the OBSERVER or other publications addressing this massive shift in education.

What are Common Core State Standards (CCSS), exactly? According to Education Northwest, an organization whose purpose is to provide research and data analysis to educational organizations, they are a “progression of learning expectations in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics designed to prepare K-12 students for college and career success.” The standards specifically outline a curriculum for each grade level, so that everyone involved in a child’s educational process will literally be on the same page, sharing common goals. Until now, individual states had their own academic expectations. CCSS was developed after considerable research and input from educators here and abroad to provide coherent and equivalent standards for students, no matter where they may live.

Thanks in large measure to the Internet and ever-more sophisticated information and communication systems, the entire focus of education has shifted. ELA standards encourage thoughtful interpretation of information, extensive verbal and written language skills (increased vocabulary and grammar usage), and collaborative efforts with others. These skills also transfer over into social studies and the sciences.

Math curriculum has moved away from the old days of memorizing and reciting facts to a deeper understanding of mathematical principals and how they apply to everyday situations. It is not enough to know how to do the equation or the problem; students must be able to explain the process and why it is applicable in a particular situation.

Many parents and educators have found the implementation of the new standards frustrating, since they are very comprehensive, and there is almost always a “learning curve” when initiating significant change. Trying to keep an open mind, trying to be patient, and trying to stay engaged with teachers in support of student needs is difficult but definitely possible with a positive outlook. Helpful websites to explore are: www.engageny.org, www.educationnorthwest.org and www.jamestownpublicschools.org (or similar school district websites for surrounding areas.) The National PTA Guides to Student Success at www.pta.org are very easy to understand and the Common Core Parent Roadmaps located online at Council of the Great City Schools, “provide parent roadmaps in English language arts/literacy and mathematics giving guidance to parents about what their children will be learning and how they can support that learning in grades K-12.” Each grade level parent roadmap also furnishes three-year “snapshots,” explaining how selected standards progress from year to year so students will be college and career ready upon high school graduation.

These sites supply a great deal of information, explanation, example, and instruction. They give a detailed overview of how CCSS was adopted and the research behind it. Further, there is discussion about the continuity it gives from one school district to another, educational preparation in a global economy, accountability for administrators and teachers alike, and shared teaching techniques, assessment methods, and approaches for parental support and learning after school.

Much is at stake as the first full year under CCSS comes soon to a close. Children are on spring break in early April but will be tested within a week or two of their return on ELA and math skills. While they are home, parents can help children support what they have learned by practicing skills described under CCSS. Read news articles together; talk about their content; look for vocabulary, and ask questions to prompt thoughtful discussion. Look at newspaper and online advertisements and calculate the differences between sale and regular prices; have children figure out what they can afford at a restaurant given a predetermined amount of money, or reinforce everyday experiences by stretching imaginations in a fun and practical way. Chautauqua Striders tutoring is available for every grade level once students return to school, helping them make adjustments to the new curriculum and providing test strategies and review.

Many lament the loss of “the way we used to do it,” but today’s world is no longer the world of even 10, short years ago. Each passing day brings with it rapid changes in every fabric of a global society. Will today’s children be ready to meet new and ongoing challenges? Will they be able to grasp ever-changing technology and innovation? Will they be ready to move into roles of leadership and entrepreneurship as adults? It is the long-term goal of CCSS to provide the answer, “Yes” to all these questions.

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