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Common Core, Family Engagement,

Common Core State Standards & English Language Arts: What Every Parent Should Know

Across the United States, 45 states and 3 territories have adopted the Common Core State Standards.

As the new school year begins, parent-teacher open houses and introductory letters abound with mentions of the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS). As friends and colleagues pass along teacher and parent emails about the CCSS, I notice some misconceptions. Let’s take a minute to look at some of the key ideas associated with the Core and how you can expect to see the Core unfolding in your child’s classroom.

What are the CCSS?

Across the United States, 45 states and 3 territories have adopted the Common Core State Standards. These standards help teachers ensure their students have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful by providing clear goals for student learning. For example, in third grade, students should learn how to:

Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.1

One  common misconception is that a district’s new resources (software, programs, materials, etc.) are the CCSS. In actuality, the classroom teacher is responsible for understanding, instructing, and assessing on the Common Core – essentially making this curriculum come to life in the classroom. The resources provided by the district serve as the tools teachers may use to help students achieve the rigorous standards and goals the CCSS outlines for all students.

To illustrate how the tools are separate from – but complementary to – the standards, our 3rd grade English Language Arts guide transforms the technical language of the standard above into a series of student-friendly language including:

  • I can define event, procedure, idea, and concept.
  • I can identify events, procedures, ideas, and/or concepts in different types of
    informational text.
  • I can explain how events, procedures, ideas, and concepts connect to one another.
  • I can use language that shows time (before, now, later, etc.), sequence (first, next, last, etc.), and cause/effect (because, then, if, etc.) when describing a text.2

Legislation regarding adoption of the Common Core and implementation of assessment varies by each state/territory. For example, Ohio adopted the Core in June 2010, and assessment will begin in Spring 2015. Many districts are rolling out the implementation of the Core by grade level (e.g., K-5th grade in 2011, 5-8th grade in 2012, and 9-12th grade in 2013) to make a gradual adoption that will have all students ready for the assessments.

Why use the CCSS in an English Language Arts classroom?

The authors of the CCSS examined the end result of thirteen years of education and discovered a number of areas needing improvement. Independently reading texts was one key area where our K-12 students were consistently falling short. In other words, graduates aren’t prepared to read and process the materials found in higher education and today’s job market. By implementing the Common Core, students will be prepared for the texts they will encounter in the world today.

What should parents look for in an English Language Arts CCSS classroom?

Text Complexity – Higher levels of text are a key component. We have seen a decline in text complexity and a decline in the independent reading of complex texts. Students need to learn how to tackle more complex texts. Students also need to be engaged in activities and discussions that allow them to process the text and gain a deeper understanding of authors, text structure, purpose, theme, etc.

Informational Text vs. Literary Text – The ability to critically read informational texts continues to grow in importance, which is reflected in the Core.

  • Elementary students (K-5) will divide time spent on the two forms of text equally: 50% informational, 50% literary.
  • Middle school students (6-8) will begin to focus more time on informational text: 60% informational, 40% literary.
  • High school students (9-12) should spend the majority of their day focused on informational texts, 70% informational, 30% literary.

To reinforce the students' literacy skills, there is also a set of standards for literacy in history / social studies, science, and technical subjects in grades 6-12. Teachers in these areas will also be teaching informational reading and writing within their subjects.

Writing – The focus of student writing will be to inform, to argue, and to tell a story. There has been an overemphasis in American schools on narrative writing (writing to tell a story). Research indicates that students have a difficult time writing to inform or argue. As students advance in the CCSS classroom, the shift in emphasis on writing to tell a story and writing to inform or argue will parallel the shift found in reading. Elementary will be a 50/50 split. Middle school will see a 60/40 split, with the larger amount spent on writing to inform or to argue. Finally, high school will move to a 70/30 ratio, with the majority of time spent on students creating informational text to inform or to argue.

Research – Research is no longer being looked at as simply a big project that happens once during each school year. Kindergarten through high school students will be expected to research and report their results in a variety of formats throughout the school year; Thus creating confident independent researchers.

What questions might parents ask a teacher in a CCSS English Language Arts Classroom?

  • What types of texts will my child read this year?
  • What are some texts I could provide for my child to read at home?
  • How can I support informational writing at home?
  • What topics will my child research this year?
  • What formats for research will my child use this year, and how can I support him/her at home?

Where do I go from here as a parent of a CCSS student?

Now you have an overview of the basics of the CCSS. Changes are always happening in education to better prepare our students for the constantly changing world in which we live. Talk to your child about what he/she is doing in the classroom, stress the importance of informational text and writing in our information-based society, and enjoy watching your child flourish as he/she grows through the concepts and challenges found in the Common Core!

Correction, 11-Sept-12: The date of Ohio's adoption of the Common Core State Standards was corrected to June 2010.

Resources & Citations

  1. English Language Arts Standards, Grade 3. Common Core State Standards Initiative. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School, 01 Jun 2012. Web. 30 Aug 2012.
  2. The Common Core: Clarifying Expectations for Teachers & Students. English Language Arts, Grade 3. Align, Assess, Achieve LLC, 2012.
  3. TYSK for Parents - the Common Core Standards and you!

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