Common Core State Standards: Key Shifts and Lessons So Far


The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia and represent the work of the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in collaboration with educators across the country. The CCSS have a clear focus on what students need to know and be able to do in order to be successful in college, careers and beyond. The CCSS call for a shift in what and how we teach students to better align with the demands of the global economy.

Key Shifts for English Language Arts:

One key shift for English Language Arts is more of a focus on informational text that is seen to help build background knowledge and is better aligned with higher education and career expectations. By high school, the CCSS asks students to be reading 70 percent informational texts. Another key shift is a greater focus on text-dependency.  That means that students must cite evidence from text to develop effective, well-written claims.  Another way of thinking about this is that students need to engage with prompts and tasks that are embedded in text and not just from experience or prior knowledge. The CCSS also emphasize the idea of text complexity. The CCSS give specific guidelines to educators on the level of complexity a text needs to have at each grade level so students can progressively tackle more difficult texts and academic vocabulary as they progress through schooling. As a way to prepare students for more complex texts, the CCSS requires students to from text to develop effective claims. Coherent Learning progressions are also emphasized. While most CCSS standards remain the same K-12, what students are asked to do with the standard becomes more complex emphasizing depth over breadth.  Another big change is the standard requirements reach across content areas and include Literacy in History/Social Science, Science & Technical Subjects and requires a more shared responsibility for literacy development.

Key Shifts for Math:

The CCSS math standards also emphasize depth over breadth and narrow and deepen the focus so students can get a solid foundation as they progress through the grades. Applied knowledge, procedural skill as well as conceptual knowledge with a focus on problem solving are cornerstones of the CCSS for math. Another shift is coherence across grade levels and within the grade level. Discrete concepts and skills are connected and extend previous learning.  In order for students to experience coherence, they need to experience rigor.  Applied knowledge, procedural knowledge and conceptual knowledge need to all be focused on equally so students can move beyond viewing math as mnemonic devices, build accuracy with calculations and apply math in multiple contexts.

Planning & Implementation – What I have learned so far:

After providing professional development for hundreds of teachers, leaders and community members, it is clear that planning and implementation has challenges. Many folks I have worked with express uncertainty about how students will take up the CCSS especially those who are academically behind, whose first language is not English and for students with disabilities. These are real concerns. That said, I am really excited about the CCSS because I have a firm belief that all students can learn at high levels given the right amount of support and expectations. Having a coherent, common set of expectations and a clear roadmap of support can help us move towards providing a rigorous education for all students. I have also found that once folks wrap their heads around what the shifts are in the standards and gleam some understanding of how the assessments will look, they get excited too. We need to come from a “universal design” perspective in order to bring the standards to life for all kids. Many components of English Language Development and Special Education can be utilized to make the standards a reality for all students. I hold the strong conviction that if we do this CCSS thing right, we can go further in closing the achievement gap, as we have never been able to do before. So many students are yearning to be challenged, and now it is time to step up to this challenge. I have many ideas on how to get this done. I prepare educators to invite all students to the table of scholarship without leaving who they are behind by utilizing students’ culture, home language and diverse learning styles as bridges to academic rigor.  My work is located in a leadership capacity building model where clients learn how to facilitate their ongoing learning independently. Go to Services for more information about how I can support your CCSS efforts and leave a comment about what you know or want to know about the CCSS.

Onwards and sideways,


Also see Resources for more on the Common Core State Standards

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