Common Core Standards: What they mean for families & students

In July of 2010, Massachusetts agreed to adopt new national education standards. These standards, called the Common Core State Standards, were designed by experts from across the nation to prepare students for success in college and 21st century careers.

College and Career Ready
The Common Core State Standards were created to make sure that every student graduates high school “college and career ready.” Educational experts started by asking colleges and employers what skills and knowledge they want high school graduates to have. Then the experts worked backwards to create standards to prepare students for college and a career. Instead of starting from scratch, they borrowed from the best standards from across the United States (including Massachusetts) and around the world. Then they asked for feedback and got nearly 10,000 responses! After reviewing each one, they produced the Common Core State Standards. All this work was done with one goal in mind: to make sure every US student graduates college and career ready.

Standards – protecting your children’s right to a quality education. Every child in Massachusetts has the legal right to a quality education. Learning standards spell out what knowledge and skills students have the right to be taught. Standards are also the basis for statewide tests, like the MCAS. These tests allow families, students, and schools to know how well students are learning and how well teachers are teaching. This information allows us to make sure schools are providing a quality education to every student. In July of 2010, the Massachusetts Board of Education voted to adopt the Common Core State Standards to replace the previous statewide standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The Common Core State Standards are the result of a nationwide effort to develop educational standards for the entire United States.

Why Common Core State Standards? Before the Common Core State Standards, each state had different standards. This made it hard to compare education in different states. It also made adjustments difficult for students and families who moved from one state to another. In many states, low standards did not prepare students for college or good jobs. As a result, colleges and employers now teach students and employees many things they could have learned in public school. Educational experts created the Common Core State Standards to solve these problems. So far, over 40 states have adopted them, including Massachusetts.

How are the Common Core State Standards different from the old Massachusetts standards? The Common Core State Standards have a lot in common with the old Massachusetts standards. In fact, many of the things students will learn and do have not changed at all. What has changed is a new emphasis on “college and career readiness” (see textbox).

In mathematics, this means the standards focus on major concepts in addition to specific skills. This is so students understand why math works the way it does as well as how to solve certain types of problems. By mastering the how and the why, students will have a strong foundation to build on when they begin learning more advanced math. The new math standards also emphasize “modeling,” which means using math to answer real world questions. Modeling will help students use their math skills more effectively in college, in the workplace, and in day-to-day life.

The new English Language Arts standards recognize that students build reading and writing skills in many classes, not just English class. That’s why they have new guidelines for English Language Arts instruction in history, social studies, science, and technology classes. Another change is that students will read more non-fiction than before, especially in high school. The new English Language Arts standards also emphasize the three main purposes of writing: to persuade, to explain, or to convey an experience. In high school, most writing will be to persuade or to explain, just like in college and the workplace. The new standards also expect students to use a wide variety of media to learn and communicate. The purpose of all these changes is the same – to better prepare students for the challenges of college, work, and life in the 21st century.

National PTA Common Core State Standards Initiative:
Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Common Core information:

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