Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What is the Common Core?

One of the most discussed topics in public education right now is the implementation of the Common Core Standards.  I want to take some time to explain what is meant by the Common Core, and also how these new learning standards will impact our classrooms and students in District #1.

The Common Core State Standards establish clear expectations for what students should be learning in English language arts and mathematics at every grade level from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.  This initiative commenced from the work of 40 state governors and state education leaders from across the United States.  The resulting Common Core represents a collaborative effort to raise expectations and improve instruction for all public school students.  In short, the Common Core sets a uniform high and clear standard of performance with the purpose of preparing students for college and the workforce.

Illinois has had uniform state learning standards in place for many years.  The Common Core standards have taken the place of those state standards for English language arts and mathematics.  The major difference between the Common Core and the previous state standards is the emphasis on critical thinking and concept mastery.  In English, the Common Core focuses on the importance of reading nonfiction, using evidence to back claims and expanding academic vocabulary.  The English language arts (ELA) standards also have standards to encourage social studies, science and career and technical subjects to increase writing and the reading of informational text in their areas. This promotes a more well-rounded approach to preparing students as the focus isn’t entirely on the tested subjects of ELA and mathematics.  In math, the new standards call for a focus on fewer topics so students gain a more comprehensive understanding of those key topics.  They also emphasize the application of math towards solving real-world problems.  In both English and math, the goal of the Common Core is to give students the ability to apply their knowledge to succeed in college and/or the workforce.

With the former Illinois State Standards, school districts still maintained local control over the implementation of these standards.  This will still be the case with the state's adoption of the Common Core.  District #1 will continue to write local curricula, assessments and lesson plans for our classrooms.  The Common Core establishes the benchmarks for what our students need to know and be able to do, but District #1 will still determine the best strategies, resources, and methods for achieving those benchmarks.  District #1 teachers will continue to make their daily instructional decisions about how best to meet the individual needs of their students.

District #1 started preparations for the Common Core in the spring, 2011.  In the summer, 2011, our teachers in English and mathematics started to rewrite their curriculum and assessments to align with the new Common Core learning standards.  This process continued in the summer, 2013.  By embracing the Common Core early, our goal was to provide our students with the best possible chances for academic success as schools across Illinois are required to fully implement the curricula  during this school year.

Our hope is that our students will benefit from the higher expectations for critical thinking and concept mastery that the Common Core demands.  By encouraging our students to apply and demonstrate their knowledge in real-world settings, we hope that our students will be even better prepared for post-secondary and career success.

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