Q.What major changes do the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) call for?
The CCSS call for fewer but more rigorous standards in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics to provide students with the skills and knowledge they will need for college and career readiness. Francie Alexander, Scholastic’s chief academic officer, has identified three key instructional shifts called for in the CCSS for ELA:
- Knowledge building through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts. The Common Core still calls for rigorous analysis of literary and narrative texts. However, there is a new emphasis on informational texts, especially in the content areas of social studies and science. The CCSS recommends that content-rich nonfiction account for up to 70 percent of student curriculum materials by the time students reach high school.
- Reading, writing, and oral arguments grounded in evidence from the text. In an effort to promote close reading and detailed writing, the standards demand that students draw conclusions from evidence within the text. This standard represents a shift away from questions eliciting personal reflection toward questions calling for analytical, evidence-based reasoning.
- Frequent practice with complex texts grouped by topic. The CCSS call for students to read more-complex texts. The texts should be grouped according to themes, or domains, touching not just on language arts but also on content areas, including social studies and science. This shift is designed to help students develop knowledge and vocabulary in key domains.
Q.How long will it take for my district/classroom to implement the CCSS?
A.Implementing the CCSS will not happen overnight, or even within a school year. Districts can create timelines to phase in the standards, using the following steps:
- Assess how your current standards align with the CCSS.
- Evaluate the curriculum materials available to teachers and students for quality and rigor.
- Examine your current assessment materials and address the gaps between them and the Next Generation Assessments, which will likely be implemented in the 2014-15 school year.
- Take inventory of your technology infrastructure. How well is technology incorporated into instruction? What additional hardware and software will be needed to help your school align with the standards?
- Plan for professional development to provide teachers with the instructional strategies they’ll need to effectively implement the CCSS.
Q.Do we need to use the exemplar texts cited in the CCSS? What kinds of curriculum materials will help us meet the standards?
A.Providing students with high-level curriculum materials is essential to meeting the CCSS. The Common Core appendix offers exemplars representing different genres and grade levels. These texts are intended as examples, not as required reading.
Any texts may be used, as long as they meet the high bar set by the CCSS. Texts should be challenging and cover a range of genres. Materials should consider multiple perspectives and represent a variety of periods, cultures, and worldviews.
Teaching materials should foster close reading and analytical thinking and require evidence-based research and writing.
Q.What kinds of questions should we be asking our students, and how do we create them?
A.The CCSS call for text-dependent questions that encourage students to read closely and gain knowledge from what they read. According to the standards, evidence-based questions require students to demonstrate a thorough understanding of the text and to make valid claims that can be supported by evidence from what they have read.
Create text-dependent questions that:
- can be answered only by referring explicitly to the text;
- require close reading of and careful attention to the text;
- require an understanding that goes beyond factual recall;
- ask students to make inferences;
- target academic vocabulary;
- and do not rely on personal opinions or feelings.
Q.How do we evaluate the complexity of the texts we select?
A.The creators of the CCSS recognize that the complexity of a text consists of several variables. The new standards identify three key factors: Quantitative, Qualitative, and Reader and Task.
- Quantitative measures consider word length, word frequency, sentence length, and word difficulty. Quantitative levels are frequently measured using Lexile™ levels or other data-driven formulas.
- Qualitative measures reflect meaning and purpose, text structure, language conventions and clarity, and prior knowledge. These measures are more subjective. Rubrics to help teachers evaluate qualitative factors are available at the link below.
- Reader and Task considerations include variables such as a reader’s motivation, background knowledge, and the complexity of tasks. A teacher is in the best position to understand what knowledge each student brings to the text and to assign tasks that will provide the appropriate challenges for each individual.
Q.How will the new standards change the way students learn Mathematics?
A.The Common Core State Standards for Mathematical Practice address the need for a more coherent progression across grade levels while maintaining a focus on the same essential topics throughout all grades. Scholastic has identified the five core elements embedded in the mathematics standards:
- reasoning to make sense of mathematics;
- productive use of discourse when explaining and justifying mathematical thinking;
- procedural fluency (flexibility, accuracy, efficiency);
- flexible and appropriate use of mathematical representations;
- confidence and perseverance in solving problems.
The new standards are designed to help students build a deep understanding of mathematics while providing the tools they need to apply their reasoning to problem solving. Students will be able to participate in conversations about their mathematical thinking and respond to the reasoning of others. The curriculum is intended to help students know when and how to use computational procedures with skill and understanding.
Q.What kinds of writing should we teach our students?
A.The Common Core State Standards focus on three primary types of writing: narrative, explanatory/informational, and argument. In the higher grades, there is an increasing emphasis on writing arguments.
In Grade 4 and beyond, students are expected to support their arguments by referring to sources and citing text-based evidence.
Teachers should provide students with opportunities to read complex texts and demonstrate their understanding through writing. The writing should draw evidence from literary or informational text to support students’ analyses.
In addition, teachers should provide writing assignments that involve brief, focused research, gradually building to more-in-depth research using multiple sources.
Q.How can we prepare for upcoming assessments related to the CCSS?
A.Two major consortia are currently collaborating to produce Next Generation Assessments aligned with the CCSS. These assessments are expected to be rolled out in the 2014–15 school year.
The new assessments are expected to be more demanding, requiring higher-level skills, incorporating more technology, and accommodating students by measuring performance through several means. They will focus less on multiple choice and more on constructed responses and extended performance-based tasks.
Here are some steps your district can take to prepare for the Next Generation Assessments:
- Reflect on the current assessments used in your district. Which standardized assessments are used in different disciplines, and at what grade levels?
- Begin to use these assessments for the purpose of driving the Next Generation Assessments. The new assessment systems are being designed to inform learning and instruction, monitor progress, measure achievement, and provide data for accountability.
- Incorporate assessment activities that are consistent with the goals of the Next Generation Assessments. These activities include performance tasks that measure application of knowledge and skills in a variety of ways, including projects and presentations.
Q.How will the standards affect English-language learners (ELLs) and students with special needs?
A.The rigorous demands of the CCSS are particularly challenging for ELLs and students with special needs. The standards firmly state that all students should be subject to the same high expectations. However, the CCSS recognize that students’ needs should be accommodated through measures including extra time and additional instructional support.
The CSSS point out that ELLs may need help building background knowledge and will benefit from vocabulary instruction that reaches beyond informal, everyday language to encompass academic language. Technology can help teachers individualize instruction and generate data on students’ strengths and weaknesses to maximize teacher-led instruction time.The ELA and mathematics standards include information on how to apply the standards to English-language learners and students with disabilities. Assessments for these students will be tailored to individual needs while still aligning with the standards.
Application of the standards for English-language learners
Application of the standards for students with disabilities
Q.How can we help bridge the gap for students who are not ready to meet the CCSS?
A.Although the CCSS raise expectations for all students, any teacher can attest that this ideal is difficult to put into practice. Students enter the classroom with differing capabilities and from a wide variety of backgrounds. For those students who are currently performing below level, there are different paths to success. Scholastic believes that with the right scaffolding, support, and practice, students can build enough confidence, knowledge, and skills to bridge the gap.
For ELA, some of the strategies for boosting achievement include:
For Mathematics, strategies for meeting the needs of all students include:
- Provide scaffolding of a text by asking questions and focusing on key phrases and ideas.
- Chunk texts into smaller segments and provide opportunities for multiple reads.
- Increase motivation by selecting engaging, relevant texts and tasks.
- Model close reading and textual analysis.
- Make use of technological resources to help students build knowledge.
- Scaffold lessons by starting with the most fundamental concepts and building from there.
- Talk about math with individuals and in small groups, encouraging students to explain their reasoning.
- Provide math sentence frames to help students build their math discourse.
- Make connections among math concepts explicit through classroom discussion.
- Model your mathematical thought processes aloud.
You’ll see key information and updates about the local implementation of the Common Core State Standards. (MN has adopted only the ELA component. AK, NE, TX and VA have not adopted the CCSS.)
Click your state to get key information and updates about the implementation of the CCSS.
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