Why the Common Core State Standards

Editor’s Note: The following piece was drafted by faculty and administrators in the Newton Community Schools. The purpose is to clarify issues related to the Common Core State Standards and the school district’s plan to help kids meet those standards, specifically in the area of reading. The authors were: Tom Bartello, Carol Farver, Jolene Comer, Jolene Liebl, Lisa Sharp, Jill Bartello, Nancy VanWyk and Director of Education Jim Gilbert.

Over the last couple of years, controversy has erupted as a result of Common Core State Standards and the implementation of these standards within states, districts and individual schools. Iowa has been no exception to the implementation and, as a state, has also decided to amend the Common Core State Standards slightly to better fit the educational practices implemented in Iowa’s core for years.

As educators we have had the opportunity to see the Common Core State Standards laid out in their entirety. We have known for some time these standards were going to be implemented across the state and nation.

Planning, preparing, studying, asking questions, finding materials and resources in order to meet these standards has taken place, but above all we are working to meet the needs of the students with whom we work. As educators, we have become knowledgeable about the Common Core but feel like it is not being justly represented to the public. 

We would like to take this opportunity to explain some of the fundamental goals of the Common Core State Standards, which include a need for consistency within education, meeting the long-term needs of our students, incorporating research based instructional routines and practices, 21st century skills, and high stakes testing. It is also important to understand what the CCSS were not designed to do.

The CCSS were designed academically from the top down. Meaning, researchers looked at what skills were needed for students at the collegiate level. Once these skills were determined, the developers took their time to break down these skills into grade level goals and benchmarks that were meant to build in complexity from one grade level to the next.

This structure allows for consistency across the state, and nation, in terms of educational content, skills, and strategies being introduced to all students. Students in Newton follow the same criteria as all students throughout the state and nation.

Along with common criteria, educators have found that the CCSS also raises the bar for academic expectations. Common Core State Standards are higher rigor than what students, and many educators, are used to.

Our experiences with Everyday Math are showing that students are capable of learning at higher levels than we traditionally thought possible in the past. In addition to higher rigor, the CCSS are also designed to level the playing field. Everyone has the same standards to reach within each grade level regardless of the school or district students attend. 

These standards are designed to give students the skills they need to not only be successful from year to year, but also prepare them for higher levels of education after high school. Although not all students attend college, it is our goal as educators to ensure that all students will be prepared for collegiate level academics if they so choose. In addition to preparing students for their futures, CCSS also support student growth within their current grade levels.

Most readers have heard of No Child Left Behind. This federal mandate was designed to push student achievement to higher levels across the United States. This school year (2013-14), No Child Left Behind was designed to come to fruition, meaning all schools across the country are expected to have 100 percent of students scoring proficiently on a nationally standardized assessment, or showing adequate growth towards scoring proficiently.

While this program has sparked a fair amount of controversy, like it or not, in the educational world it is our reality.

As mentioned before, CCSS are designed to help raise the bar of educational expectations. Over the past two years we have been working to incorporate CCSS into our regular curriculum.

Along with this implementation we have started to see changes within our classrooms and students. We are seeing and hearing more complex thinking and problem solving. Students are becoming more engaged with updated classroom materials and technologies.

Teachers are using data to work on the specific skills and strategies students need to focus on instead of just incorporating a “one-size-fits-all” lesson plan. Our goal for this implementation is to support overall student academic growth which will result in improved performances on standardized tests.

To support our students in making this needed growth, the school district, for grades kindergarten through sixth, has purchased a new reading program called Reading Wonders. The Reading Wonders program was selected by a team of local teachers and administrators whom represented each grade level from each building.

This team gave careful consideration to research as they explored different programs available for our district to adopt. The team was unanimous in selecting our current reading program. The materials encompass the skills and content that aligns to the Common Core. 

We finally have common assessments teachers can use to measure student learning. Even more important will be the opportunity to analyze data from student learning and make adjustments in our teaching.

Our materials, resources, and Common Core Standards are new to both the teachers and students. With any new change will always come challenges, but the benefits of expecting more from our kids will result in higher levels of learning. We have already proven that with the new math program we adopted four years ago.

One important component to understand about the CCSS is that it doesn’t tell school districts or teachers how to teach. This was intentional! The goal for the CCSS is for individual districts and schools to determine how they are going to meet these standards. 

As you could imagine, this could be a very complicated and tedious task. If left to do this on their own, teachers would have to research and find their own materials and create lesson plans designed to gradually build in complexity from where students start to where they need to be able to go by the end of the year. 

Along the way, teachers would also need to create periodic assessments to monitor students’  progress, plan lessons to reteach the skills when students are not understanding it the first time, and determine overall what it would look like when a student does master a CCSS. This would be a difficult task for even the most experienced teachers. 

Instead of asking our teachers to do this work on their own, which has been asked of some teachers in districts across the state, we were able to purchase a researched-based program that was designed to meet the grade level standards as written in the CCSS. 

The Reading Wonders program was written and created to meet the CCSS, monitor student’s progress, and support all students in reaching these academic goals. The Wonders program is a tool for teachers to use to meet the CCSS.

While it is not the only way of meeting the standards, it is the way our district has decided to meet the high expectations of the CCSS. 

As a school district, we have implemented new programs in the past. As mentioned before, there are challenges with any new program. However, the benefit of implementing the CCSS and a program like Wonders translates into students who are more adequately prepared for their futures. 

At the end of the day the writers of the CCSS, the developers of No Child Left Behind, administrators, teachers and support staff have the same goal in mind. We are going to do everything it takes to help our students succeed. 

They are the reason we do what we do and we would not want it any other way.