Straight to the Core: A Common Core State Standards Primer

Our guest blogger, Peggy James, blogs weekly for The Gateway. The beginning of the school year is filled with high hopes. Teachers have plans to teach their students everything they need to know for the year, and students are coming […]

Our guest blogger, Peggy James, blogs weekly for The Gateway.

The beginning of the school year is filled with high hopes. Teachers have plans to teach their students everything they need to know for the year, and students are coming out of summer vacation rested and ready to learn. Parents are counting on schools to provide their kids the appropriate education for their grade. They are hoping their kids will be ready for next grade when it’s time to move on, and, more importantly, they want them to be fully prepared for college by the end of high school.

How can we be sure that students throughout the country are learning what they need to learn? How do teachers know which skills they need to teach? How can we be sure American students’ education is competitive with students around the world? Educators and politicians have been discussing these kinds of questions for many years.

Today’s standards-based education got its roots in the 1990s when a new law required states to set challenging and rigorous content standards for all students. Assessments aligned to these standards would measure student progress and schools could be held accountable for meeting the standards. There was a huge push to ensure that these standards would challenge students to learn to the highest of their abilities. Since people generally rise to a challenge, the goal was to raise expectations for student performance by creating specific goals.

In the beginning, each state was responsible for creating their own broad descriptions of the knowledge and skills to be acquired in each particular subject and grade level. These became the content standards for that state. Since each state created their own curriculum framework, the standards varied widely from state to state. The coverage, clarity, and specificity of the content standards came under scrutiny and the disparity of required learning became a hotly debated topic in the following couple of decades. Students were coming out of school systems in different states with different sets of skills and students moving around the country during their school years were finding major gaps in their education. More importantly, American students seemed to be slipping behind their international peers in many areas and many were not fully prepared for college or the workplace after graduation.

To help fix some of these problems, a national initiative was started to develop a common core of state standards for English language arts and mathematics. Some goals of these standards, known as the Common Core State Standards, were to focus teachers’ energy on teaching fewer things at a greater depth and to connect learning to real life. As of this writing, 46 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards. Some states are training teachers on the standards already, and many will be implementing the standards in the next couple of years. Two companies are working on different types of tests to gauge how well students are learning the Common Core. The pros and cons of these new standards and how they will be tested has been debated by educators, policymakers, and politicians and will surely be an ongoing discussion in the education world.

However you feel about the Common Core State Standards, chances are that you will need to understand more about them as your state begins to implement them and you need CCSS aligned resources. When I teach something, I feel much more confidant when I know I am teaching at the appropriate level and I know a little bit about how that “appropriate level” was chosen. Because of this, I decided to write this little primer on the history of the Common Core State Standards. I hope it will be useful to you and your peers as you strive to implement these new standards into your teaching.

How can The Gateway to 21st Century Skills help teachers who are looking for quality, free, CCSS aligned resources? There are hundreds of aligned resources available already, and we are adding more every day. JES & Co., the company that runs the Gateway, recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation to increase their support of the Common Core State Standards. The Gateway will help make it easier for publishers to correlate their resources to the CCSS, giving you a bigger variety of resources available in a short amount of time. We would love to discuss these standards and the aligned resources we have available on the Gateway. Please leave comments or questions on our Facebook or Twitter pages to get the conversation started.

Joann’s companion column: 

Posted by WeAreTeachers Staff

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