Getting Started with the Common Core State Standards (Part I)
Get the basics on the Common Core State Standards — what they are, who created them, goals, how they address content-area literacy, and what they offer for ELLs and special education students.
In this article:
In this article written for Colorín Colorado, ELL expert Susan Lafond provides an introduction to the Common Core State Standards through a series of user-friendly FAQs.
Part II of this series focuses on Key Shifts in Language Arts and Literacy for ELLs.
For some great videos introducing the Common Core, check out our video list from the Teaching Channel.
What are the Common Core State Standards?
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative is a state-led effort intended to provide more clarity about and consistency in what is expected of student learning across the country. Until now, every state has had its own set of academic standards, meaning public education students at the same grade level in different states have been expected to achieve at different levels.
Who created the Common Core State Standards?
The CCSS Initiative has been coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards, developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, were released in June 2010 and as of April 2012, have been adopted by 45 states.
The states that have not adopted the standards are Alaska, Texas, Virginia, and Nebraska. Minnesota has adopted the English Language Arts standards, but not the Math Standards.
Note: The federal government has not been involved in the development of the standards.
What the Standards Do (and Don't) Include
What are the goals of the Common Core State Standards?
The common standards define the rigorous skills and knowledge in English language arts and mathematics that need to be effectively taught and learned for all students to be ready to succeed academically in credit-bearing, college-entry courses and workforce training programs. These internationally benchmarked standards will not prevent different levels of achievement among students.
Rather, the goal is to provide more consistent exposure to materials and learning experiences through curriculum, instruction, and teacher preparation among other supports for student learning. This initiative also aims to provide all students with an equal opportunity for a quality education that will prepare them to go to college or enter the workforce, regardless of their zip code.
What's included within the standards?
The standards for English language arts and math provide grade specific standards for grades K-8. Because they focus on results rather than the means, teachers are not told how to teach the content. In other words, there is flexibility in determining how students will reach these standards in the classroom. The standards also don't cover all that can or should be taught, but rather focus on the essentials.
It's important to note that in keeping with advancing technology, multimedia and the strategic and capable use of technology is in embedded throughout both sets of standards.
How do the standards address content-area literacy?
The English language arts standards set requirements not only for language arts and reading but also for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Literacy standards in these content areas for grades 6 and above are a supplemental component to the related content standards, honing in on the challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in classes other the English language arts.
For additional information about the ways in which the standards differ from current language and literacy standards, take a look at Key Shifts of the Common Core State Standards: English Language Arts and Literacy.
What resources are available for ELLs and special education students?
While the authors of the Common Core State Standards offer suggestions for applying the standards with English language learners and students with disabilities, they have left the specifics of that implementation to districts and states.
Have the new standards been aligned with English Language Proficiency (ELP) standards?
No. Each state is responsible for aligning language proficiency standards with the Common Core.
For more information, take a look at these introductory videos from the Teaching Channel, a great resource for CCSS information sessions:
- Common Core State Standards: Elementary School
- Common Core State Standards: Middle School
- Common Core State Standards: High School
- Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy
- Common Core State Standards for Math
To hear about how the standards were created, browse the Hunt Institute video library.
Common Core Glossary
Scholastic has created a glossary of 25 terms that appear in the new English language arts standards and have a specific meaning within the standards.
About the Author
Susan Lafond, a Nationally Board Certified Teacher in English as a New Language (EAYA ENL), has 20 years of combined experience teaching ESL and foreign language. She currently works as a professional development assistant for educators with New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). She serves on AFT's ELL Educator Cadre, as well as an expert practitioner and advisor to Colorín Colorado, developing and editing materials for the web site. Her success with high school students was featured on the site in their From the Heart section. She participated in a webcast for them that focused on supporting ELLs in content classes. In 2006, she traveled to Beirut, Lebanon as a turnkey teacher trainer for the Lebanese Syndicate on behalf of AFT.
Susan was appointed to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) English as a New Language Standards Committee in February 2009 to review and revise the existing English as a New Language Standards and most recently participated as a member of the ELA Work Team for the Common Core State Standards Initiative. She won the Union College Excellence in Teaching Award and the Employee Recognition Award in her own district.