What Are the Common Core Standards?

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Introduction to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): 10 Essential Facts

1. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) define academic expectations in English language arts and mathematics for students in kindergarten through grade 12.

2. By 2014-2015, CCSS will be fully implemented in the states that have adopted them, and student progress will be assessed through testing at the end of the school year.

3. Common Core State Standards have currently been adopted by 45 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, American Samoa Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Northern Mariana Islands.

4. The states that have not yet adopted the standards are Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia. Minnesota has adopted CCSS for English language arts only.

5. CCSS assessments are being developed by 2 consortia of states. The SmarterBalanced Assessment Consortium has released practice tests and sample test questions, available here

6. How the standards are implemented is the decision of each state that adopts them.

7. How lesson plans are developed to address the standards is the decision of the classroom teacher.

8. CCSS for English language arts (K-12) establish a 50/50 balance of fiction and informational/nonfiction literature. Required reading content includes classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare.

9. CCSS for math establish a uniform sequence of grade-level instruction in math. Math topics are introduced and taught progressively in the same order throughout grades K-12. 

10. CCSS guidelines include information for applying the standards to students with disabilities and to learners of English as a second language.

Overview of the Common Core State Standards

The development of the Common Core State Standards began in 2009 with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a joint effort of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The goal was to bring into alignment the various academic performance standards established by the states in response to No Child Left Behind and to establish academic expectations with an international benchmark.

Common Core State Standards were written, reviewed, revised, and then released on June 2, 2010. The standards are copyrighted; states that adopt the standards cannot revise them, but individual states can choose how to implement them and may incorporate them into existing state performance standards. Curricula, instructional strategies, teaching methods, and specific classroom texts are not mandated.

The focus of the Common Core State Standards is to prepare students for college, postsecondary training, and careers. The standards address both content and skills, emphasizing the application of knowledge through critical thinking, problem solving, and communications. In addition, English language arts standards for grades 6-12 are written to develop literacy across additional academic disciplines—science, social studies, and technology. ACT and SAT tests will be revised to incorporate the new standards.

CCSS may be revised in the future, and new standards may be developed for additional subjects. The current standards are organized into the main sections listed below.

1. English Language Arts Standards (K-12). These develop knowledge and skills in the following areas:

  • Reading: Literature
  • Reading: Informational Text
  • Reading: Foundational Skills
  • Writing
  • Speaking and Listening
  • Language

2. English Language Arts Standards (6-12). These focus on developing knowledge and skills in additional areas:

  • Literacy in History/Social Studies
  • Science and Technical Subjects
  • Writing

3. Standards in mathematics (K-12). These are organized in two primary sections:

  • Standards for Mathematical Practice
  • Standards by Domain

Controversy and the Common Core State Standards

Some teachers and educators have voiced various concerns about CCSS as the standards have been reviewed and adopted. The primary concerns reported are the following:

  • The increased emphasis on nonfiction, especially at the elementary...

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  • level, leaving less time in the classroom to study important works of fiction in world literature
  • Standards that are not specific enough or that are written in excessively complex language
  • The uniform emphasis on preparing students for college, training schools, and the workforce, beginning in kindergarten, and a corresponding lack of emphasis upon educating the “whole child” as an individual
  • The absence of field testing CCSS comprehensively in public schools before releasing the standards
  • The absence of teacher inclusion at the building level in formulating the standards
  • The influence of business and industry in formulating standards in education
  • Aligning and implementing CCSS in relation to existing state standards
  • The expense of implementing CCSS and its impact on state and school district budgets

Teacher Tips for Addressing Common Core State Standards in the Classroom

  • Don’t address the standards one by one in isolation. Instead, create lesson plans that pull several standards into discussions and activities.
  • Focus on students developing skills rather than memorizing content. Use lessons and activities that require students to gather evidence and answer critical thinking questions based on their evidence.
  • Lead discussions by asking questions that engage students in critical thinking, such as comparing, contrasting, analyzing, inferring, sequencing, predicting, synthesizing, and hypothesizing.
  • Address the standards with “real world” activities and projects that go beyond the classroom.
  • Ask students to explain how they solved a problem or reached a conclusion.
  • Distinguish between persuasion and argument; ask students to develop logical arguments supported by specific evidence gathered through reading texts.
  • Engage students’ interest in a difficult text by teaching it in conjunction with excerpts from texts they will find less challenging and to which they can relate more easily.   
  • Design math lessons that develop students’ understanding of the principles and the rules of mathematics.

eNotes Resources That Address Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts

Common Core State Standards in English language arts do not mandate or eliminate specific pieces of fiction or nonfiction, but in addressing the standards, literary selections in lesson plans must meet a required degree of complexity and quality. 

CCSS Appendix B (a PDF file) offers examples of well-known works of literature that meet the requirements, giving teachers a guideline in selecting class content.

eNotes lesson plans, curriculum plans, and response journals cover literary selections of the required complexity and quality. The chart below includes eNotes lesson plans and study guides that are among the exemplar works listed in CCSS Appendix B. A complete list of lesson plans is available here. In design and content, each eNotes lesson plan, curriculum plan, and response journal listed here relates directly to the CCSS in English language arts for several grades, primarily grades 9-12.  

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

The Odyssey by Homer

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide

“The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe

Lesson Plan Summary and Study Guide