Common Core: What parents need to know

The Fresno BeeOctober 20, 2013 

Q: What is Common Core?

A: Common Core is a set of English and math standards that say what students in grades K-12 need to learn to be prepared for college and their careers. The standards are uniform across the 45 states that have adopted them and are intended to be more rigorous than what states used before.

Q: Does that mean what my child is learning will change?

A: Not necessarily. The new benchmarks for student achievement don't lay out specific novels that seventh-graders must read or textbooks that math teachers should use to teach algebra. They do, however, spell out skills that students will need to master at each grade level. For example, one ninth-grade Common Core standard says students should be able to "analyze how complex characters develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme" by the end of the year. But it's up to instructors to choose a novel, play or poem that fits the bill. "Watership Down" might be their pick — or maybe a traditional text like Shakespeare's "Macbeth."

Q: Where did Common Core come from?

A: The states and federal government were involved. In many ways, the standards bubbled up from both Republican and Democratic governors as a response to the Bush-era No Child Left Behind policy. They were developed in 2010 by the National Governors Association, in collaboration with teachers and administrators across the country, and voluntarily adopted by 45 states including California and Washington, D.C. However, President Barack Obama's Race to the Top competitive grant initiative gave states an incentive to use Common Core — to be eligible for the federal grant money, states are required to use Common Core or similarly rigorous standards.

Q: Is my child's school already using Common Core?

A: Probably. The goal is to phase in the standards in all grade levels by the 2014-15 school year. Many school districts across the central San Joaquin Valley started incorporating some Common Core standards into certain classrooms over the past few years. For example, some schools might have used Common Core math standards last year, but are only now implementing the English standards.

Q: Will my child still take standardized tests?

A: Standardized tests will still exist, but they're changing. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in October that ends the reading, writing and math test — known as STAR — that's been used across California since 1999. A new computerized test, the Measurement of Academic Progress and Performance, or CalMAPP, will be used on a trial basis this spring. It's still being developed, but practice tests show it could include fewer fill-in-the-bubble questions and more short-answer prompts.

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