You’ve probably heard rumors—and lots of them—about the Common Core State Standards. Maybe these myths were whispered to you in the teachers’ room over lunch or were the subject of a heated debate at a faculty meeting: Don’t even think about teaching pre-reading strategies ever again! Throw out your fiction books because your students will read only informational text from now until June! Be prepared for every last one of your students to fail the new assessments!
Many of these myths have taken hold because of ambiguities and a lack of communication surrounding the standards. Where there’s room for interpretation, there can also be confusion. As well as misconceptions.
Instructor has recruited a crew of myth-busting Common Core experts to separate myth from fact. With their assistance, we’ll help you sort it all out.
â MYTH The focus on informational texts means the standards do not emphasize fiction.
There’s no doubt that the standards have given informational text its heyday. But that doesn’t mean that fiction is no longer important.
Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of Common Core’s English Language Arts standards, says this myth is based on a misreading of Common Core’s introduction, which suggests students’ reading diets should mimic the texts found on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. For instance, fourth graders should read an even balance of 50 percent literary and 50 percent informational texts across an entire school day—not specifically within an ELA class.
Christina Trujillo is a fourth grade teacher at Tiefort View Intermediate School in Fort Irwin, California.
“The majority of books in our curriculum are fiction,” she says. But her students prefer nonfiction, which she assigns in short passages of informational text. In doing so, she strikes a balance between the two text types.
â MYTH The standards prohibit teachers from doing pre-reading activities with students.
The hubbub about pre-reading came as a result of a document for publishers and curriculum developers who are crafting Core-aligned resources. The guidelines say that the instructional focus should remain on the text—rather than on providing students with too much information before reading, or “giving away” the story.
But remember that the Core is a set of standards, not a curriculum. While it does delineate what students should be able to do, it does not prescribe how teachers should teach.
“There are no standards that dictate whether or how teachers should use pre-reading strategies,” says Pimentel. “Instead, the standards focus on students reading, carefully and deeply, appropriately complex texts.”
â MYTH Students are required to read complex texts that are not developmentally appropriate, including the exemplars in Appendix B.
Students are expected to read texts that fall into their grade band’s complexity level. By some accounts, these texts are more challenging than what students are accustomed to reading.
That being said, students are by no means required to conquer a complex text every time they read. (Imagine how frustrating that would be for any reader!) Instead, students should read texts of varying complexity levels in different instructional settings.
Trujillo introduces her students to complex texts using read-alouds. “With good literature, we can talk about figurative language and cause-and-effect,” she says. “I’m amazed at how much my students can grasp.”
As for specific texts, Pimentel says states that adopted the Common Core did not adopt Appendix B, a list of suggested stories, poetry, and more. Local teachers and administrators will continue to guide the selection of texts.
â MYTH Key math concepts are missing or are required in the wrong grade, resulting in “fuzzy” math standards that emphasize problem solving more than accuracy.
When each state operated under its own standards, different topics were covered in different grades. Depending upon the state in which you teach, switching to Common Core may mean shifting some concepts up or down a grade level.
During trainings, math specialists like Steven Shadel, who works in Community Unit School District 300 outside of Chicago, aim to show that concepts progress logically from one grade to the next. He creates visuals to make the sequencing more tangible.
“Without doing that, that’s where the ‘fuzziness’ can come from, when teachers don’t see the big picture and the progression,” Shadel says.
As for overemphasizing problem solving, second-grade teacher Toni Chastain believes that California’s previous state standards didn’t stress it enough. She learned about seven different math strategies during a Common Core training and brought them back to her students at Lewis Elementary in Fort Irwin. “There were different ways to solve the problem, all good but different,” she says.
Sure enough, when Chastain put a problem on the board and said simply, “Let’s think about this,” her students didn’t know what to do at first. She got a lot of blank faces. One student eventually asked, “Aren’t you going to tell us what to do?”
The class decided to tackle the problem by drawing pictures. “That was great, and eventually it will be second nature for them to say, ‘Let me stop and think,’” Chastain says. “This is a shift for them as well as for teachers."
â MYTH The standards do not prepare students in the lower grades to learn algebra in eighth grade.
Trujillo says that the Common Core trainings she attended stressed the progression of math concepts. In third grade, the focus is on multiplication. In her fourth-grade class, Trujillo reviews multiplication facts and properties.
“If 6 is the product and 3 is a factor, we’re looking for a missing number. That’s algebra,” she says.
In the past, says Shadel, teachers may have held off on discussing algebra until the eighth grade. Now they are more explicit in the earlier grades. Sixth-grade teachers are tying their teaching of proportions and ratios directly to algebra so that by eighth grade the concepts aren’t new to students.
“These are concepts that naturally show the way to algebra,” Shadel says. The new standards, he adds, allow students time to master each early step so they are ready for the next grade, including Algebra I as early as eighth grade.
â MYTH New Common Core assessments are designed for students to fail.
The new tests will be more challenging than current state tests and will likely lead to sharp drops in scores, at least initially. During a recent faculty meeting, second-grade teacher Chastain and her colleagues took a sample third-grade ELA assessment developed by Smarter Balanced. “It was difficult. I’m not going to lie,” says Chastain. “Students are going to have to think in a different way.”
Introducing a new test often leads to a drop in scores. “That won’t mean our students are suddenly doing worse, just that we have a more honest assessment of how we’re doing than we were getting from previous state tests,” says Jason Zimba, a lead author of the Common Core math standards.
But this is a major concern for Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers. Earlier this year, Weingarten called for states to hold off on high-stakes Common Core tests for at least a year, until teachers have had adequate time to prepare. “There are places across America
that haven’t come up with curricular tracks that align to the new standards,” Weingarten says. Teachers need time and support to learn how to teach to the standards, she adds.
“We’re not ready for prime time,” Weingarten argues. “It would be such a big deal if Arne Duncan or Bill Gates said, ‘These are important new standards. Let’s take a step back and put this into practice.’”