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The Common Core State Standards focus on developing students’ critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills. The standards were drafted by experts and teachers from across the country and are designed to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs.

Common Core is not a curriculum that articulates what information needs to be learned but a set of expectations so all students can be successful. This significant difference allows for greater local level decision-making on how students meet those expectations and what materials are used in the classroom. Teachers can respond to student needs to help them grasp the concepts through more direct inquiry, analysis and application. It empowers students to be active learners rather than passive consumers of information in our schools.

Figure: A fundamental shift with Common Core
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A Different Way of Learning

The Common Core shifts away from an emphasis on rote memorization and towards deeper comprehension and application.

As a result, The Common Core will not necessarily lead to students learning substantially different information; rather it will push them to learn in different ways. The focus will be on critical thinking and problem solving instead of rote memorization.

California students will have a much greater and more active role in their education. This will mean changes in how they are taught. There are significant changes in English Language Arts and Math with these new Standards.

The Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts in California

  • Expose students to more complex text, meaning what they read will have a higher level of difficulty: This is important for college readiness, as the ability to answer questions about complex text is a key predictor of college success.
  • Place a much greater emphasis on informational text as do colleges and workplaces: Currently, in many elementary programs, only 15% of text is considered expository. The Common Core sets the expectation that, in grades three through eight, 50% of the text be expository.

The Common Core State Standards for Math in California

  • Are designed to focus instruction on fewer topics each year: Allowing more time to be spent on each topic to foster deeper understanding of key concepts and skills
  • Ask students to engage in more complex, higher-order thinking: They require students to gain in-depth mastery of content

Figure: Improving upon math standards
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Governors’ and State Superintendents’ Organizations Drove their Development

The Common Core standards were developed by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in collaboration with state officials, teachers, parents and other interested parties across the country to develop model standards in math and English for states to consider. The standards were developed with an eye towards preparing students for college and career, and were internationally benchmarked. Throughout the drafting process, NGA and CCSSO relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country. Over 40 states, including California voluntarily adopted the standards.

Building on an Old System

California adopted a standards-based accountability system –standards, assessments, and accountability – in the 1990’s. These old standards were considered rigorous, but were also known for being “a mile wide and an inch deep” meaning that they covered a lot of different elements, but didn’t provide enough opportunity to understand and explore the information deeply.

A lot has been learned since then, and state policymakers were debating the best method to update the standards. At the same time, a multi-state effort began to develop what became known as the Common Core Standards in mathematics and English Language Arts. California policymakers determined that these standards addressed some of the key shortcomings with the old California standards, and adopted the Common Core in 2010.

Focus of the New Standards

The standards-writers sought to create standards that are:

  • Aligned with college and work expectations;
  • Include rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills including critical thinking and problem solving;
  • Build upon strengths and lessons of previous state standards;
  • Informed by top-performing countries, so that all students are prepared to succeed in our global economy and society;
  • Evidence and/or research-based; and
  • Establish what students need to learn, but not dictate how teachers need to teach.