The language used to describe the changes and instructional shifts required to implement the Common Core State Standards has parents confused and kids more than a little bit nervous. Words like, “Where is the evidence?” and “Show me the text” may seem baffling or without context, but the Common Core Standards represent a brave new world in learning and thinking, geared towards moving kids to a higher, more in-depth standard of acquiring and extrapolating knowledge as well as analytical thought. The jury may still be out about this evidence-based system, but here is what you need to know about the shifts in your child’s classroom this year.

What is the Common Core? – A national set of educational standards, the Common Core has been adopted in 45 states, including New York, which began full implementation for the 2013-14 school year. The Common Core strives to create a uniform playing field for all kids and an evidence-based, robust learning system in every grade, with the end goal of college and career success in clear and obtainable sight. With the Standards, children know what they are required to learn in each grade. While specific to English language arts/literacy and math, the Standards permeate all of the subjects being taught in school with a new, evidence-based approach to acquiring knowledge and explaining answers.

How will the Common Core change the classroom? – While not without its critics, the Common Core is ushering in a new, exciting and robust form of learning, heralded by many teachers, educators and parents. Throughout all areas of study, kids are now propelled to raise the bar on why they find a certain answer to be so. Students are required to find evidence, often within their textbooks and rote recitation of facts, and spoon-feeding from teachers trying to dumb down the work is no longer widespread. Urged to dig deeper, students will find themselves interacting with subject matter at an enhanced level, allowing for long-term retention of information and an enhanced ability to utilize analytical thinking throughout multiple areas of their lives.

Mathematics – So what does this mean to math, a subject already capable of striking fear in the hearts of students? Mathematics teachers will base their lesson plans on three primary instructional shifts called rigor, focus and coherence. They’ll do this in order to increase their student’s understanding of underlying mathematical concepts as well as increase their skill and ability to apply what they have learned across multiple types of problem solving.

English Language Arts/Literacy – An increased focus on reading and acquiring evidence from nonfiction and informational textbooks, coupled with the need to study complexly-written text and acquire an understanding of academic vocabulary, are geared towards helping students acquire college-level skills. Students will still read a significant amount of literary work, but at least 50 percent of what is being studied in classes, such as social studies and art, will now be informational in nature. In essence, students will be expected to acquire knowledge they can use across multiple disciplines from their textbooks, rather than parroting back what they read within a narrow context. Class discussion will also change, with the goal being that students acquire the skill to make evidentiary arguments, both in writing and via the spoken word.

How will the Common Core affect tests? – As a measure of accountability, both for students and for schools, testing under the Common Core will be more challenging and for some, might produce temporarily dropped scores and possibly the need for summer school. Parents are strongly encouraged to talk to their children’s teachers for individualized guidance on how to best support their own child and alleviate the added stress this might cause. Sample tests are available for each grade and can be downloaded by families here.

Will kids be working harder or smarter? – We’ve all heard the old adage – work smart, not hard – but this ideology does not jive with the Common Core. The Standards require kids not choose between the two, but rather acquire the benefits of working both hard and smart, without looking for shortcuts or easy fixes. If the Common Core lives up to its promise, this next generation of American kids will reap the benefits, becoming knowledgeable leaders able to compete on the world stage and prosper in multiple areas of their lives.

Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at


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