Understanding Common Core academic standards

By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Placer Herald correspondent
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What is Common Core?

Common Core State Standards are a set of benchmarks for language arts and math in kindergarten through 12th grade adopted by the California State Board of Education in August 2010.  A group of governors and chief state school officers pushed for national standards to better prepare students for college and global competition in the workplace. Rocklin Unified began transitioning to the new standards in 2012 by training teacher leaders at school campuses. 46 states have adopted Common Core in the United States.
Examples of new standards to come

New kindergarten mathematics standard: Compose simple shapes to form larger shapes. For example, “Can you join these two triangles with full sides touching to make a rectangle?”

New fifth grade English language arts standard: Reading an informational text – analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.

New sixth grade mathematics standard: Expressions and equations: Write an equality of the form x > c or x < c to represent a constraint or condition in a real-world or mathematical problem.

Upcoming statewide testing changes: New annual assessments will require students to provide more in-depth answers for one problem, including short essay answers and multiple essay answers.


Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part story on Rocklin Unified School District’s implementation of the Common Core standards. Read more next week.

In a country where academic expectations will soon have a common definition, the Rocklin Unified School District is transitioning into a new age of school standards.

California Common Core State Standards (CCCSS) are math and English language arts benchmarks defining new content relationships, a greater depth of understanding and a more detailed staircase to higher learning for public school children. CCCSS include many of California’s 1997 academic content standards, but require students to show their learning with more writing, more collaboration and critical thinking applications via real-world situations.

According to the California Department of Education, a group of governors and chief state school officers from 48 states developed the standards with input from K-12 educators, postsecondary teachers, researchers and community groups. The California State Board of Education unanimously adopted the CCCSS in August 2010.

Rocklin Unified began transitioning to the new standards in 2012 by training teacher leaders at school campuses. Ruhkala Elementary fifth-grade teacher Adam Salinger is a CCCSS teacher leader for RUSD.

“For too long, teachers have felt like they’ve had to rush through skills in order to cover the long list of topics in a single grade,” Salinger said. “The Common Core Standards focus on far fewer topics with much greater depth. Fifth grade is no different than any other grade in that I have never felt like I have even close to enough time to cover everything the 1997 standards require, but that will now change and in this case, the change will be good for all.”

With much praise for the new standards that focus on preparing students for college and the international marketplace also comes criticism that Common Core is a national curriculum giving the federal government too much control over public school course content.

Rocklin educational psychologist Dr. David Scanlan, a parent who credits RUSD with giving his child an outstanding 12 years of education, warned that Common Core eliminates teacher and parent influence over class curriculum and marginalizes an individual state’s influence.

“Common Core only appears to be a state-initiated program,” Scanlan said. “With a closer look, it is actually a federally initiated curriculum and it is under powerful federal influence. It is not just a USA curriculum; it is a worldwide curriculum and fits perfectly into the goals of the UN’s Agenda 21, a socialist agenda for the 21st century.”

While standards provide objectives for students and teachers, officials at the California Department of Education said decisions about curriculum, such as classroom instruction and textbooks, are made at the local level.

“Local teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards make decisions about curriculum and how their school systems are operated,” informed Barbara Murchison, of the CDE Common Core Systems Implementation Office, who added CCCSS are part of a voluntary state-led effort.

For Salinger, new academic expectations will change some of his instructional techniques.

“The standards call for a much greater emphasis on nonfiction – the primary type of text students will read after high school,” he said. “Students in my fifth grade will be expected to focus about 50 percent of their reading on nonfiction. This means that as a teacher, I will have to choose a variety of nonfiction materials appropriate for fifth grade that allow students to compare and contrast different authors’ viewpoints on the same topic.”

Students in all grades will also be asked to write in all curricular areas to show their understanding of topics on a higher level. Carolyn Nunn-Lum, RUSD director of elementary programs who serves on the Rocklin Unified Common Core Planning Team, suggested how parents might encourage their children during the transition.

“Parents can ask their children how and why questions about fiction and nonfiction paragraphs, articles and books,” Nunn-Lum said. “Parents can also encourage their child to think of different ways to get to an answer to a math problem (counting objects, making a pattern, drawing a picture) and encourage their child to stick with a problem or a project by acknowledging small accomplishments toward the bigger goal.”

RUSD teams of teachers and administrators are presenting CCCSS workshops for their staff and plan to share information on curriculum transitions with district parents, site councils and community groups. Core changes are already making their way into the classroom, as most teachers are beginning to implement many of the curricular changes this calendar year.