The creation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has, for the first time, produced a set of de-facto national instructional standards in English and Math for grades K-12 that represent, arguably, the most significant education reform in generations. Following a few years behind the CCSS, are the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) which were introduced recently. Illinois adopted the NGSS standards in February 2014, one of 11 states that have adopted them so far.
The importance of District 203 successfully implementing the Common Core State Standards cannot be overstated; it has to be this district’s number one priority. The good news is D203’s curriculum already contains many concepts contained in the Common Core such as our inquiry based learning model that encourages students to become critical thinkers and collaborative workers, and thus is well positioned to embrace the promise that the Common Core represents.
The effects of the standards will be far-reaching: students will need to learn specific concepts sooner and demonstrate significant analytical skills. It’s not about just finding the right answer anymore, it’s now about being able to also explain and defend why it is the right answer. Additionally, there is a major push to increase text complexity at every grade level, and the standards place far greater emphasis on students reading non-fiction (both of these to help students be better prepared for college/careers). This change in emphasis will affect every student in every grade, starting in Kindergarten, where the standards call for the Kindergarten curriculum to introduce instructional texts (non-fiction) to students. In math, the progression of topics has been significantly revised by reducing the number of topics taught per year to allow students to spend more time mastering basic mathematical concepts in the early grades and then progress into increasingly more advanced topics.
Initially, 45 states plus the District of Columbia adopted the standards, including Illinois who adopted them in June 2010. Unfortunately, the standards have received significant push-back from both educational and political groups. Some educators criticize what they feel is an over reliance on, and excessive amount of, testing. Other educators take exception to various components of the standards. Many political groups find fault in the national scope of the standards, stressing it violates "states' rights". Others find fault in certain aspects of the standards, and for some, the standards are too closely associated with the Obama administration and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which funded much of the cost of creating the standards. There is also an unfortunate tendency for people to blame the standards for problems with the curriculum a district uses.
As of June, 2014, two states (Indiana and South Carolina) have voted to drop the standards. Other states are considering it as well. Oklahoma has just announced they are creating their own standards and will be dropping out at some point. Per Education Week, state lawmakers in 10 states, upset at what they see as federal overreach that bypassed their chambers, are enacting laws that place new restrictions or specifications on how state boards may adopt academic expectations. Altogether, 50 bills have been introduced in 22 states during that time period that seek to change the procedures by which standards are developed, reviewed, or adopted
While the standards conform to NCLB’s focus on English Language Arts and Math, they are not part of the federal government’s educational mandates, nor did the federal government have any role in their creation. Instead, the National Governors Association and the Council for Chief State School Officers spearheaded this effort, along with a number of foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation who provided funding and expertise. Thus, the Common Core Standards will function as this nation’s national educational standards even though the federal government had no formal role in their creation.
These national standards are replacing the individual state standards, and, in many instances (Illinois included), represent increased rigor compared to the standards they are replacing. The consortium claims: “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.” Additionally, they claim the standards “…are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to go to college or enter the workforce and that parents, teachers, and students have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. The standards are bench-marked to international standards to guarantee that our students are competitive in the emerging global marketplace.”
The Common Core K-8 standards are listed by grade level. Every participating state, every school district’s curriculum, will be expected to incorporate these standards by grade level. High school standards are in two year bands to allow some flexibility in course offerings. One of the benefits of the standards will be uniformity across school districts and states with the same topics being taught at the same grade level in all schools. This will greatly benefit students who change districts during their school years.
At their discretion, states are allowed to supplement the standards with an additional 15% of state-specific standards.
District 203 Implementation
Implementation of the standards began in the 2012/13 school year with portions of the math curriculum. The ELA curriculum is slated to be introduced for the 2013/14 school years. In April of 2011 Kathy Duncan, Chief Academic Officer, and David Chiszar, Director of Research and Assessments, gave a presentation to the D203 school board. They indicated D203’s educational philosophy meshes well with the CCSS, with the District’s recently revised math curriculum well aligned with them. Nevertheless, the District’s various curriculum committees are working now to fully align 203’s curriculum to the CCSS.
In addition to the instructional standards, two organizations are developing assessment programs for the Common Core. Illinois is a governing state in what was originally a 26 state consortium on assessment called the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). As of June, 2014, the consortium is down to 15 members. The other group is SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). The PARCC assessments will replace Illinois’ current ISAT tests and potentially the PSAE (ACT) that Illinois gives all juniors. One significant change that parents have already seen with the 2013 ISAT test is that elementary school tests are being brought up to the difficulty of the high school tests. This is expected to continue with the PARCC tests.
There is significant concern about the cost of the tests themselves and the cost of implementing the technological infrastructure needed to conduct the tests which are computer based. District 203 has been updating its systems and will be ready. Many districts, especially small downstate districts, have been asking for a waiver, as they are financially unable to shoulder the financial cost.
The Goals of the Standards
The goal of the Common Core College and Career Readiness standards is for students to display the following attributes:
- Students can comprehend and evaluate complex texts across a range of types and disciplines, and can construct effective arguments and convey intricate or multifaceted information. Students are able to discern a speaker’s key points, request clarification, and ask relevant questions. They build on others’ ideas, articulate their own ideas, and confirm they have been understood. Without prompting, they demonstrate command of standard English and acquire and use a wide-ranging vocabulary.
- Students establish a base of knowledge across a wide range of subject matter by engaging with works of quality and substance. They become proficient in new areas through research and study. They read purposefully and listen attentively to gain both general knowledge and discipline-specific expertise. They refine and share their knowledge through writing and speaking.
- Students adapt their communication in relation to audience, task, purpose, and discipline. They set and adjust purpose for reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use as warranted by the task. They appreciate nuances, such as how the composition of an audience should affect tone when speaking and how the connotations of words affect meaning. They also know that different disciplines call for different types of evidence (e.g., documentary evidence in history, experimental evidence in science).
- Students are engaged and open-minded—but discerning—readers and listeners. They work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims and the soundness of reasoning.
- Students cite specific evidence when offering an oral or written interpretation of a text. They use relevant evidence when supporting their own points in writing and speaking, making their reasoning clear to the reader or listener, and they constructively evaluate others’ use of evidence.
- Students employ technology thoughtfully to enhance their reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language use. They tailor their searches online to acquire useful information efficiently, and they integrate what they learn using technology with what they learn offline. They are familiar with the strengths and limitations of various technological tools and mediums and can select and use those best suited to their communication goals.
- Students appreciate that the twenty-first-century classroom and workplace are settings in which people from often widely divergent cultures and who represent diverse experiences and perspectives must learn and work together. Students actively seek to understand other perspectives and cultures through reading and listening, and they are able to communicate effectively with people of varied backgrounds. They evaluate other points of view critically and constructively. Through reading great classic and contemporary works of literature representative of a variety of periods, cultures, and worldviews, students can vicariously inhabit worlds and have experiences much different than their own.