A+ Advice for Parents

Common Sense About the Common Core State Standards

Q: Our district tested the Common Core State Standards this spring. One of my son's third-grade classmates refused to take the test on his father's orders. His dad, a high school teacher, thinks the Common Core involves "needless testing." Two other parents disrupted a school board meeting, saying the standards amount to governmental intrusion into schools. The Common Core makes sense to me. Am I missing something?

A: The new Common Core State Standards make sense to most parents who take the time to study them.

A few facts: The new standards were driven by the states -- not the federal government or the U.S. Department of Education.

They are the culmination of a rigorous 20-year process initiated by state governors. The process sought input from parents, teachers, researchers, subject-area specialists, business leaders and policymakers throughout the country and across the political spectrum.

The standards were created in response to trend lines over three decades that showed our schools were not preparing a large segment of U.S. students for college or careers, especially in science, math, engineering, technology and communications.

"The Common Core State Standards are a foundation for a high-quality education," says Bill Jackson, president of greatschools.org, an education resource for parents. "When you're told your son is reading at the third-grade level, you need to know that it means something. Right now, there are 50 different ideas about what 'third-grade level' means. Common state standards will make it easier for parents to really know how well their children are doing in school."

For generations, the U.S. educational system has been a patchwork of different states' learning objectives. What a student is supposed to know by the end of eighth grade in one state was often different from the goals for a child in another. Yet we live in a mobile society.

"At greatschools.org, we hear stories of families moving to another state to find that their child is repeating content taught earlier in their former school. Or their child is far behind classmates in a new school," says Jackson. "Education is the prerogative of states and districts, but mastering fractions should mean the same thing in Alabama as in California or Maine."

The new suggested standards have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Full implementation starts in 2014. Some states and districts, to their credit, gave them a dry run this spring to establish a baseline.

The state standards were also built in alignment with state university leaders, meaning that students who meet the 12th-grade level standards are prepared for higher education. The new standards don't change the fact that states and districts are in charge of determining how to accomplish the learning objectives, what curriculum approaches and materials to use, and how teachers and administrators assess students' progress.

"When parents learn more about the states' standards, they'll likely support them," says Jackson. "They provide all students from all states an equal opportunity to reach high academic standards in mathematics and English language arts."

For more on the Common Core State Standards, go to www.corestandards.org.

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

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