Parent Primer on Common Core State Standards

Overview for Parents: The Common Core State Standards

Adapted from a publication in the Acton Public Schools

What are the Common Core State Standards?
By providing clear goals for student learning, educational standards help teachers ensure
their students have the skills and knowledge they need to be successful.

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what
students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

[From Common Core State Standards Initiative website:]

Why the Move To the Common Core?
• College and Career Readiness is the new national norm.
• Workplace reading, measured by lexiles, exceeds grade twelve complexity significantly.
(Stenner, Koons, & Swartz)
• The demands that college, careers, and citizenship place on readers have either held
steady or increased over the last 50 years.
• Students in college are expected to read complex texts with substantially greater
independence than are students in typical K-12 programs. (Erickson & Strommer, 1991;
Pritchard, Wilson, & Yammitz, 2007)
• K-12 texts have actually trended downward in difficulty in the last half century (Chall,
Conard, & Harris, 1977)
• Forty-eight states have adopted the CCSS and are participating in two assessment
consortiums to create new state assessments for 2014-2015
(From Supplementary Materials, Greater Boston Readiness Center Common Core Advisor)

How Are the Common Core Standards Incorporated Into the New MA Frameworks?

The Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for English Language Arts & Literacy and
Mathematics build on the Common Core State Standards. Each state was allowed to
determine and include unique standards, in addition to adopting all of the Common Core
Standards. Massachusetts added 15% in additional standards to the Common Core,
resulting in the current Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for English Language Arts & Literacy and Mathematics. The Natick Public Schools have been aligning to the standards in the past two school years.


Common Core Shifts

English Language Arts/Literacy
1. Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction
Building knowledge through content rich non-fiction plays an essential role in literacy
and in the Standards. In K-5, fulfilling the standards requires a 50-50 balance between
informational and literary reading. Informational reading primarily includes content rich
non-fiction in history/social studies, science, and the arts; the K-5 Standards strongly
recommend that students build coherent general knowledge both within each year and
across years. In 6-12, ELA classes place much greater attention to a specific category of
informational text – literary nonfiction – than has been traditional. In grades 6-12, the
Standards for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects ensure
that students can independently build knowledge in these disciplines through reading
and writing.

To be clear, the Standards do require substantial attention to literature throughout K-12.
Half of the work of ELA teachers in K-5 and the core of their work in 6-12 is in literature.

2. Reading, writing and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and

The Standards place a premium on students writing to sources; i.e., using evidence from
texts to present careful analyses, well-defended claims, and clear information. Rather
than asking students questions they can answer solely from their prior knowledge or
experience, the Standards expect students to answer questions that depend on their
having read the text or texts with care. The Standards also require the cultivation of
narrative writing throughout the grades, and in later grades a command of sequence and
detail will be essential for effective argumentative and informational writing.
Likewise, the reading standards focus on students’ ability to read carefully and grasp
information, arguments, ideas and details based on text evidence. Students should be
able to answer a range of text-dependent questions – questions in which the answers
require inferences based on careful attention to the text.

3. Regular practice with complex text and its academic language
Rather than focusing solely on the skills of reading and writing, the Standards highlight
the growing complexity of the texts students must read to be ready for the demands of
college and careers. The Standards build a staircase of text complexity so that all
students are ready for the demands of college- and career-level reading no later than the
end of high school. Closely related to text complexity – and inextricably connected to
reading comprehension — is a focus on academic vocabulary: words that appear in a
variety of content areas (such as ignite and commit).



1. Focus strongly where the Standards focus.
Focus: The Standards call for a greater focus in mathematics. Rather than racing to cover
topics in today’s mile-wide, inch-deep curriculum, teachers use the power of the eraser
and significantly narrow and deepen the way time and energy is spent in the math
classroom. They focus deeply on the major work* of each grade so that students can gain
strong foundations: solid conceptual understanding, a high degree of procedural skill
and fluency, and the ability to apply the math they know to solve problems inside and
outside the math classroom.

2. Coherence: Think across grades and link to major topics* within grades.
Thinking across grades: The Standards are designed around coherent progressions from
grade to grade. Principals and teachers carefully connect the learning across grades so
that students can build new understanding onto foundations built in previous years.
Teachers can begin to count on deep conceptual understanding of core content and build
on it. Each standard is not a new event, but an extension of previous learning.
Linking to major topics: Instead of allowing additional or supporting topics to detract
from the focus of the grade, these topics can serve the grade level focus. For example,
instead of data displays as an end in themselves, they support grade-level word
3. Rigor: In major topics* pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application with equal intensity.

Conceptual understanding: The Standards call for conceptual understanding of key
concepts, such as place value and ratios. Teachers support students’ ability to access
concepts from a number of perspectives, so that students are able to see math as more
than a set of mnemonics or discrete procedures.
Procedural skill and fluency: The Standards call for speed and accuracy in calculation.
Teachers structure class time and/or homework time for students to practice core
functions such as single-digit multiplication, so that students have access to more
complex concepts and procedures.

Application: The Standards call for students to use math flexibly for applications.
Teachers provide opportunities for students to apply math in context. Teachers in
content areas outside of math, particularly science, ensure that students are using math
to make meaning of and access content.
Grade *Priorities in Support of Conceptual Understanding and Fluency
K–2 Addition and subtraction: concepts, skills, and problem solving
3–5 Multiplication and division of whole numbers and fractions: concepts, skills, and problem solving
6 Ratios and proportional relationships; early expressions and equations

(From Achieve the Core website: )


To Learn More

National Parent-Teacher Association Parents’ Guides to Student Success:

Common Core State Standards Initiative:

Massachusetts Common Core Standards Initiative page with links to 2011 Curriculum
Frameworks for English Language Arts & Literacy and Mathematics:

Online Videos:

Teaching Channel: Common Core State Standards: Elementary School video:

The Hunt Institute for Educational Leadership and Policy videos on the Common Core State

National Common Core Standards and Massachusetts

 by Federation for Children with Special Needs


Coming Soon:  Parent Primer on the PARCC Assessment (Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Career).


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