Parents’ Guide to the Common Core State Standards

Have you heard of the Common Core State Standards? The Standards are the most buzzed-about movement in education in years. To date, 40+[1] states plus the District of Columbia and four American territories (Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Northern Mariana Islands) have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), which outline learning expectations for students in kindergarten through 12th grade in both math and English language arts.

There’s been so much talk about the Common Core that’s it’s become difficult to figure out what the standards are all about. That’s why we’ve assembled this easy-to-understand guide to the Common Core State Standards.

What are the Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Standards outline what students should know and be able to do in math and English language arts. The standards are not curriculum. The standards do not dictate what teachers and schools need to teach, and they do not require teachers or schools to use certain materials, methods or texts.

The Common Core State Standards establish common learning goals for students in grades K-12. The standards are outcome-based: they’re focused on what students should be able do. For instance, one of the English language literacy arts standards says that 4th grade students should be able to determine the theme – the main idea – of a story or poem. A math standard for kindergarten students says that they should be able to count to 100 by ones and by tens. In every state that has adopted the standards, educators will use the standards to develop lesson plans and activities that will help students understand basic math and English language arts concepts and give students the time, practice and support they need to develop the skills outlined in the standards.

Why were the Common Core State Standards created? Why have so many states adopted Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards were created to help prepare today’s students for the future. In many places, educational standards hadn’t changed all that much in a very long time. But in that time, the world changed a lot. Jobs became more complex. Technology integrated every aspect of our lives. And a high school diploma no longer guaranteed a good job.

Educators and policy makers worked together to create the Common Core standards in order to prepare students for life, education and work after high school. According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the Common Core State Standards were “designed to ensure students are prepared for today’s entry-level careers, freshman-level college courses, and workforce training programs.”

College and career-readiness, in fact, are two buzz words that frequently accompany the Common Core. That’s because the goal of the standards is to ensure that all students are ready for either college or a career after high school.

The standards also define common educational expectations for students all around the country. Prior to the Common Core standards, each state established its own learning expectations and goals. As a result, the material covered in, say, third grade, varied from place to place and school to school. That made it difficult for students who moved or transferred schools, because sometimes, their classmates had covered material that they never learned. Without common standards, it was easy for students, especially students who moved frequently, to experience gaps in their education. The Common Core standards create consistency in education by creating a consistent set of learning expectations that will apply to all students at a particular grade level in states that have adopted CCSS.

Who developed the Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Standards were developed by educators and policy makers. Teachers, school chiefs, administrators, leading education experts and researchers were involved in the creation of the standards. The federal government was not involved in the development of the Common Core State Standards.

In fact, the push to develop the Common Core standards came from the states. In 2009, state school chiefs and governors from 48 states and the District of Columbia launched an initiative to develop a set of common educational standards that could be used to efficiently prepare all students for careers, college and life post-high school.

Teachers played a huge role in the development of the Common Core. Teachers served on the work groups and feedback groups that helped develop the standards. Some teachers actually helped write and revise the standards. Teachers throughout the country provided feedback on drafts of the standards; this feedback was used to tweak and refine the standards.

Where will the Common Core State Standards be used?

The Common Core State Standards will be used in all K-12 public school classes in states that have adopted the Common Core. As of March 2014[1], all but six states have adopted the Common Core math and English language arts standards. Minnesota has adopted the Common Core English language arts standards but has decided against using the Common Core math standards at this time. Texas, Alaska, Virginia and Nebraska have not adopted the Common Core State Standards; they continue to use state-developed educational standards. Indiana withdrew from the Common Core in late March 2014.

Many private schools plan to use the Common Core State Standards as well.

When will states and schools begin using the Common Core State Standards?

Many schools are already using the Common Core State Standards. The implementation and rollout process has been in the works since 2010, when the final version of the standards was officially released. Different states and different schools began implementing the standards at different rates. Some piloted the standards in a few grades or schools first, to learn more about how to best use the standards before using them widely. To decrease the chances of overwhelming students and teachers, some schools implemented the math standards before the English language arts standards, or vice versa.

By the 2014-2015 school year, all K-12 public schools in states that have adopted the Common Core standards will be using the standards to guide education. In the Spring of 2015, for the first time, most students will take Common Core -aligned assessments instead of state educational assessments. These assessments are designed to measure students’ mastery of and progress toward the standards.

Some students, particularly in New York and Kentucky, have already taken Common Core-aligned tests. Overall, fewer students scored at “proficient” or “advanced” levels on the Common Core-aligned tests than they did on previous state-developed tests. Educators say this decrease in scores is not unexpected; the Common Core standards set the bar higher than previous educational standards did. Educators also expect student scores to increase as teachers, students (and parents!) become more comfortable with the Common Core State Standards and the new ways of learning and demonstrating knowledge.

Jennifer L.W. Fink is a freelance writer who frequently writes about education, health and parenting. See her work at and

[1]As of June 2014

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