Common Core: Your Questions Answered


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The N.C. Department of Public Instruction adopted the Common Core State Standards as the math and English Language Arts standards in 2010 and implemented them throughout the state’s public schools during the 2012-13 school year. The new, nationalized curriculum defines what K-12 students should know in two basic subject areas — English language arts and mathematics — by the end of each grade. This endeavor to unify the public school curriculum across the country began in 2009.

The internationally benchmarked standards were created using existing state standards, research, current college and work expectations, experience from teachers and public feedback. Proponents say the standards increase critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and help students who move during their K-12 years by maintaining a consistent curriculum across the states. Many textbook developers favor them as well, since they are able to more provide consistent text for students across the U.S.

Support for the Common Core State Standards recently diminished, however, due to concerns about age-appropriate teaching material and increased standardized testing. Some activists argue that it infringes on state sovereignty, although the initiative is not required by the federal government to create a national curriculum.

Such initiatives are not new. (Remember the No Child Left Behind act?) State education standards have existed for many years, allowing each its own definition of proficiency. The Common Core State Standards were designed to normalize these proficiency standards.

We opened up the floor to Piedmont Parent readers so they could ask questions about the Common Core State Standards. Tammy Howard, director of Accountability Services for NCDPI, and Robin McCoy, director of K-12 Curriculum and Instruction for NCDPI, provide some answers. You can also learn more about the standards and international benchmarks at corestandards.org.

Q: The House Education Committee voted 27-16 on June 3 to direct state officials to begin studying new achievement standards for North Carolina students as a way to replace the national Common Core State Standards. The House also voted 74-40 on June 24 to put its version of the legislation into a Senate repeal bill and send it back to the chamber, which could force lawmakers on either side to come up with a compromise. What are the latest developments there, and how could this affect the curriculum for 2014-15?

McCoy: SB 812 was enacted into law on July 22, 2014.  The bill calls for a review of the mathematics and English Language Arts standards.  The State Board of Education is responsible for adoption of standards for NC public schools and the State Board of Education already has a policy requiring a review of standards every five years. This process will be followed for the math and ELA standards beginning this fall, 2014, and continuing throughout the school year and into 2015-16.  Until such time as the review process is completed and any modifications adopted by the State Board of Education, the current standards will remain in place.

Q: What do you see as some of the strengths of the Common Core State Standards?

McCoy: Compared to our previous North Carolina ELA and math standards, they provide a greater level of rigor in the classroom such that students will be better prepared for college and the workplace. They encourage higher-level thinking skills, including problem solving and reasoning skills. They allow for students with high mobility to be more successful, since school districts across states will be using the same set of standards in ELA and math. The standards promote enhanced teacher collaboration and professional development as teachers within and across states share best practices around the teaching of the standards. … As our teachers become more familiar with the new standards and ways of providing instruction to address the standards, our students will benefit.

Q: What do teachers think about the Common Core State Standards?

McCoy: We administered a survey to our teachers and the majority of responses were in favor of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics. In addition, the biannual Teacher Working Conditions Survey was completed this year and the majority of respondents were in support of the standards. Our North Carolina Association of Educators supports the standards.

Q: How many benchmark tests do teachers have to give the average elementary, middle and high school student throughout the year as part of this curriculum; for what subjects and how often?

Howard: The curriculum does not require benchmark testing. That is a local issue, not state-required.

Q: How were the End-of-Grade (EOG) and End-of-Course (EOC) tests changed to adapt to the Common Core State Standards, and what impact has the curriculum had on these test scores?

Howard: As with any shift to new content standards, new tests were developed and first implemented in 2012-13. The impact on the test is the rigor of the content standards. The tests are aligned to the content standards, thus measuring whether students have learned the standards. The percent of students (who are) proficient has decreased, but that is expected anytime there are new content standards and a shift in what is taught. We have seen this occur every time we implement new standards and new tests.

Q: Do you foresee additional changes to EOG and EOC tests due to the Common Core State Standards?

Howard: No.

Q: What constitutes changes in math due to the Common Core State Standards?

McCoy: There are three main shifts in the math standards. First, there is greater focus on fewer topics so that students gain a strong foundation and solid understanding of concepts, a high degree of procedural skill and the ability to apply math to real-world problems. Second, there is a greater emphasis on coherence or linking knowledge and skill development across grades so that learning is a progression rather than disconnected topics or memorization. Third, there is greater rigor, meaning that conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency and application are given equal intensity such that students gain a deep command of mathematical concepts.

At the high school level, our math courses are now titled Math I, Math II and Math III. The courses include the same concepts and skills included in the courses we previously called Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II. However, the Math I, II and III courses reorganize the concepts and skills into a more integrated course of study that leads to a greater conceptual understanding of mathematics.

Q: I’d like to know more about Read To Achieve. Is this part of Common Core, or was it implemented as a separate initiative?

Howard: This is not part of Common Core. It is a reading initiative enacted by the General Assembly in 2012.

Q: I want to know when to expect testing and what’s expected in kindergarten related to the new curriculum.

McCoy: There are no formal testing requirements in kindergarten. … During the kindergarten year, information collected during the first 60 days of enrollment creates a Kindergarten Child Profile, capturing a snapshot of each child at the beginning of kindergarten. To create the profile, the teacher intentionally collects evidence (e.g., observations, work samples, parent input, activities) about what children can say, do, make or write across five areas of learning and development: Approaches to learning, cognitive, emotional-social, language and communication, and health and physical. ... The evidence collected is then used to help the teacher understand where a child may be in his or her learning. This helps the teacher and student make immediate and ongoing adjustments to instruction and learning.

Carolyn Caggia is an editorial intern with Carolina Parent Magazine. She is a rising junior at N.C. State University majoring in environmental science with a focal area in journalism.

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