School Matters

Nothing common about Common Core State Standards for education

Special to The CambrianOctober 16, 2013 

Along with 45 other states, California has adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and is implementing them during this school year and next. According to the California Department of Education, “Persistent and dramatic achievement gaps still exist in our country. College remediation rates are abysmal. And employers say students are unprepared to perform and thrive in the workforce.

“The need to audaciously confront these issues resulted in a remarkable collaborative effort — the promise of consistent, shared and rigorous education standards for all students that align with college and work expectations — a new set of ambitious academic standards to set the foundation for even greater student growth and success.”

In this column, I’ll summarize what the standards are and what they’re intended to accomplish. Future columns will focus on what Cambria’s schools are doing to implement the standards. For those interested in a comprehensive look at the CCSS, go to the California Department of Education website:

The standards are broken into two areas: (1) English language arts and literacy and (2) mathematics. These two areas are foundational for the entire K-12 curriculum. Literacy refers to the ability to understand informational texts in history/social studies and science/technical subjects as well as the English classroom. The math standards are developed not only to complete the normal math curriculum, but to support science education as well.

Within the CCSS, the language arts and literacy standards require that students:

  1. Demonstrate independence.
  2. Build strong content knowledge.
  3. Respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline.
  4. Comprehend as well as critique.
  5. Value evidence.
  6. Use technology and digital media.
  7. Understand other perspectives and cultures.

The grade-by-grade matrix of standards follows 10 threads broken into the following areas: Key ideas and details, craft and structure, integration of knowledge and ideas, and range of reading and level of text complexity.

Every year, each thread picks up where it left off the year before, eventually requiring high school graduates to read and understand complex textual material, conduct independent research, collaborate effectively with peers to accomplish projects, write clearly and present materials through a variety of methods.

It is important to note that the language arts and literacy standards do not specify content or teaching methods. Teachers and curriculum developers retain the freedom to conduct their classrooms in the ways they deem most effective. But the objectives are clear, unambiguous and rigorous.

The objectives of the math standards are summarized in the following list:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model with mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for and make use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

As with the language arts and literacy standards, these standards build from year to year. They ensure that all students will have completed Algebra 2 by the end of high school and provide for adding Calculus and Advanced Statistics for more advanced students. These standards, by necessity, define content to a great degree. But they still leave teachers the freedom to teach.

Beginning in 2015, students will take “Smarter, Balanced Assessment” tests to determine progress against the standards (practice tests will be conducted in 2014 on a limited basis). These tests will be computerized and conducted in such a way as to test what a student knows rather than what he/she doesn’t know. As students respond to a question, the next question will build on how they answer. Sample questions are also available on the Department of Education website.

The CCSS will require a major effort from students, teachers, schools, districts and states.

But in our interconnected world, where communications are instantaneous and ideas flow freely across borders, the quality of education will define our nation’s ability to compete.

CCSS is a meaningful step forward.

Ted Siegler’s “School Matters” column is special to The Cambrian. Email suggested topics to him at

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