California’s Common Core State Standards: An Overview for Parents

What is the Common Core?

The new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a national set of educational standards adopted by 48 states that 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 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 change in what and how we teach students to better prepare them for the demands of the global economy. The state of California adopted California’s Common Core Standards (CCCS) in August of 2010.


 Why do we need new standards?

So why do we need a new national set of education standards? The traditional way we taught students in the past simply isn’t in alignment with the demands of college and careers today and in the future. The role of student as empty vessel and teacher as holder and giver of knowledge are antiquated. Common national standards and assessment will provide students learning goals that will be more consistent state by state and give us a clearer picture of how the U.S. performs internationally. Our school and schools throughout the country are working to improve teaching and learning so all children will graduate high school with the 21st century skills they need to be successful.  According to CEOs interviewed, the following skills were most sought after in potential employees:


  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration and Leadership
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination


The Common Core aims to “upgrade” the current way we teach content knowledge in English, Math, Science and Social Sciences by requiring more applied skills and independent learning. Students will need strong writing skills and be required to work in teams to collaborate to solve problems. Students will need to be able to make arguments and back up what they say with lots of evidence. They will need to be independent thinkers and learners. To make the Common Core live in classrooms, many changes will need to be made.


Changes in English Language Arts

In English Language Arts and literacy there are several changes that teachers and parents will need to consider. Students will, in addition to stories and literature, be required to read more non-fiction to learn important facts and background knowledge in history, art and science. They will need to read more challenging texts more closely and will be asked the kinds of questions where they will need to reflect on and analyze what they have read to find answers. Students will need to not only find the main idea or arguments presented in what they read but make arguments and provide evidence drawing from multiple viewpoints to support their ideas.


Changes in Mathematics

Like English Language Arts, the new Math standards focus on the application of “real world” math including problem-solving skills. The new math standards require students to develop a more solid foundation as they progress through the grades by going deeper with the concepts they will use as the math gets harder. The new standards are more connected and extend and build on previous learning.  In other words, we are trying to move away from only studying one math topic at a time, say for instance, fractions or algebra, to studying what math students need to solve the problem and how many ways can they solve the problem. The Math standards now point out the importance of teaching both Mathematical Content and Mathematical Practices such as problem solving, reasoning, argument and critique, using math tools and modeling.


Changes in how students are tested

Perhaps the biggest change is how students will be assessed. The current assessment system, STAR, will sunset (yay!) and new assessments will be administered in the 2014-15 school year.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium is in charge of developing the new tests called performance tasks. Performance tasks ask students to demonstrate their knowledge. The tests will have less multiple choice and more variable option test items and much more writing will be required. The assessment will be on a computer and will adapt to students’ level of proficiency. The benefit of the assessment is it can give teachers and parents good information about what are strong areas and areas for growths for students. A performance task might ask students to use math to design a community garden or to argue for or against uniforms in schools.


So is this a good thing?

Establishing common education standards is one way we can work to address the disparity between individual state standards to ensure that all children, regardless of geography, socioeconomic status, or life history, receive an education that values their potential.

Common standards are good for students because:

  • They help prepare students with the background knowledge and skills they need to succeed in college and careers.
  • They help make transitions smoother for students moving to different states or districts because the learning goals remain consistent.
  • Clearer standards help students understand what is expected of them and allow them to engage in more self-directed learning.

Common standards are good for parents because:

  • They help parents understand exactly what students need to know and be able to do at each step in their education.
  • They help facilitate conversation between parents and teachers about how to help their children reach those education goals.
  • They assure parents that their children have access to the same high-quality education other students receive in other parts of the country.

Common standards are good for teachers because:

  • They allow for more focused professional development and promote collaboration.
  • They can inform the development of a curriculum that promotes deep understanding for all children.
  • They can give educators more time to focus on depth of understanding and richer units of study rather than focusing on “coverage” and “fitting everything in.”

The standards are research- and evidence-based and clearly articulate expectations to parents, teachers, and the general public about what students should know and be able to do as they progress through school and at graduation from high school. The National PTA has announced its support of the initiative.

Student success is the result of the collaborative work of educators, parents, policymakers, and the broader community to better understand what students need to build a promising future. The Common Core State Standards are an opportunity to strengthen this collaboration. For more information, please visit and

As one senior executive from Dell said, “Yesterday’s answers won’t solve today’s problems.” The Common Core Standards provides educators a roadmap more aligned to college and career readiness and are a potential strategy to solve tomorrow’s problems.


6 Strategies for parents to encourage creativity and critical thinking skills:

1.  Try to build in choice and flexibility – observe your child’s interests and offer a range of reading. Is my child in to fiction, graphic novels, or non-fiction? Reading should not be a chore.
2.  Read to your child often to model for them.

3.  Answer questions with questions whenever possible. Ask your child what they think the answer could be. Help them use reason and use the process of elimination.

4.  For the reluctant reader, ask them to replace the name of an animal or character in a story with a familiar name from your child’s life, a pet or friend will do.

5.  Use math to solve problems and calculate. Point out practical applications while shopping using money. Play games with your child. Encourage them to build and count and compare. Find numbers and patterns in everyday life!

6. Find out what motivates your child and help them develop curiosity by deeply exploring a topic. Don’t worry if all they want to read about is cats for a couple of months or if they tire of a subject and move on. Find the zone that’s right for your child.

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