Volume III, Issue V
Heather Clayton, the author of Making the Common Core Come Alive!, is the principal of Mendon Center Elementary School in Pittsford Central School District, New York. She is also a co-author of Creating a Culture for Learning published by Just ASK.
About the Common Core
– John Dewey
While researching the implementation of the Common Core across the nation, it became increasingly evident that misconceptions abound, do not exist in isolation, and are prevalent in many states. There have been a great number of interpretations of the document, from the introduction to each of the standards themselves. This issue of Making the Common Core Come Alive! is intended to demystify some of the fogginess surrounding the Common Core and its implementation.
Misconception #1: The Common Core State Standards are a national curriculum which limits teachers’ ability to be creative in the classroom.
The Common Core clearly define what students need to know at what level of understanding and be able to apply at the end of each grade level in English Language Arts and mathematics from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. While the standards define the what to teach, they do not define the how to teach. The how is the heavy lifting done at the district and at the school level in our classrooms throughout each day. The standards serve as the destination, while the route is planned by teachers who combine their knowledge of instruction with their knowledge of students.
Every day that teachers step into their classrooms, they are faced with a myriad of decisions. This has not changed with the implementation of Common Core. Individual districts and schools continue to make their own decisions about their curriculum, including the scope, sequence, and pacing of instruction, as well as how to address the professional development needs of teachers. Schools are also left to determine what strategies students need to be taught in order to accomplish the goals set forth in the standards.
Teachers cannot effectively implement a curriculum unless they are creative and resourceful. Teachers clearly define the expected learning outcomes, and then find insightful ways to engage all students in the learning, as well as finding appropriate ways to measure student success. Furthermore, the standards do not specify the cognitive strategies students need to be successful learners. Standards alone are not effective unless they are married to high quality teaching that is responsive to the needs of all students.
Misconception #2: The Common Core requires more testing of students.
The Common Core requires students to think differently and deeply about the concepts, content, and skills emphasized in the standards. Measuring this understanding, however, does not require additional assessments, but rather the replacement of existing assessments with more rigorous measures.
Misconception #3: The Common Core State Standards eliminate the reading of fiction/literature.
According to the Common Core, by grade 5 students should be reading informational texts 50% of the time and literature 50% of the time and by grade 12 students should be reading informational texts 70% of the time and literature 30% of the time. After all, unless they are majoring in literature, college students will spend most of their time closely reading complex nonfiction texts. The way to accomplish this recalibration in the types of reading students are expected to do is to think of a school’s literacy program across the entire day, and explore ways to integrate discipline-specific reading, writing, listening, and speaking.
To accomplish a recalibration in the types of reading students are expected to do, we must think of a school’s literacy program across the entire day, and explore ways to integrate discipline-specific reading, writing, listening and speaking into every content area.
Across the country, schools are faced with this shift around literary and informational texts. Informational texts should be selected to build students’ content knowledge; therefore, this text selection should not only rest with teachers of English. English teachers no longer have to assume sole responsibility for students’ literacy learning, nor are there enough minutes in English classrooms to provide all the literacy experiences students should have. Rather, students should be interacting with content area reading, writing, listening, and speaking across their entire instructional day. By increasing the amount of informational texts read throughout the day, there is clearly time for fiction to have its rightful and important place in the English Language Arts classroom.
When you read the document closely, you see that the Common Core does not do away with literature. In fact, students are expected to read classic myths, stories from around the world, foundational American literature, as well as Shakespeare. The Publisher’s Criteria for English Language Arts and Literacy in Grades 3-12 outlines how students are to read texts of varying lengths for a variety of purposes. Therefore, students should be engaged in reading novels, plays, and other full length readings. Students should also have opportunities to read texts independently that appeal to their interests. This means that on a daily basis, students should be reading texts of their choice at their independent level; this reading may include fiction and other literary works.
Misconception #4: Per the Common Core Standards, students should only be reading complex texts.
The Common Core State Standards articulate the level of complexity in which students should be reading at the end of the grade level. It is important to note that the text levels have been raised for grades 2-12, but not for beginning readers in grades K-1. Beginning readers are still learning their sight words as well as how to decode words, and until they have mastered solid word attack skills and can handle simple text structures and predictable texts, they should not be faced with reading complex texts on their own. That does not mean, however, that they cannot have access to more complex reading through interactive read-alouds, where the text is read to them. However, texts with complex ideas, language, and structures should not be selected for independent and guided reading for beginning readers in grades K-1.
For 2-12 readers for whom text levels have been raised, all reading assigned to them does not have to be at a complex level. To reach the end of year benchmarks, students need to have varied reading experiences that include texts of varying lengths and genre at their independent level (read with 98% or greater accuracy), as well as their instructional level (read with 95-97% accuracy), and complex texts that require a greater degree of scaffolding to support their success in reading.
Misconception #5: When teaching to the Common Core Standards, teachers should no longer be doing pre-reading activities with their students.
One place this misconception has evolved from is in the Publisher’s Criteria for English Language Arts and Literacy in grades 3-12, where it is stated that scaffolding should not “preempt or replace the text by translating its contents for students or telling students what they are going to learn in advance of reading the text; the scaffolding should not become an alternate, simpler source of information that diminishes the need for students to read the text itself carefully.” Many have interpreted this need to keep the instructional focus on the text itself as a directive to end all pre-reading activities.
However, this is not the intent of the statement nor is it best practice. As the document also shares, some students will need careful instruction and scaffolding prior to reading the text to ensure access to that text. The directions the teacher gives should focus on the text itself, with an emphasis on important words and concepts that can’t be inferred from context, as well as the overall organization of the text. When done well, text introductions are brief and conversational and highlight the demands of the text in relation to what the reader needs. It is also a prime opportunity for the teacher to promote the strategies that the readers should be using. The conversation is designed to get students thinking about the meaning and language of the text without “giving it away.”
When students have benefitted from a high quality text introduction and still have places where they are struggling in the text, teachers should encourage re-reading and provide support to the student.
Misconception #6: In the Common Core State Standards there are important math standards missing from certain grade levels.
Prior to the implementation of the Common Core, states operated by their own standards for mathematics. There was, however, great variability with those standards with certain concepts and skills being addressed at different grade levels than those identified in the Common Core. As states implement the Common Core, some have found the need to shift certain content up or down a grade level, and make plans to ensure that students weren’t faced with gaps in their learning.
According to Dr. Hung-Hsi Wu, Professor of Mathematics at the University of California at Berkeley, “The Common Core mathematics standards succeed in being both mathematically coherent and grade level appropriate. Overall, they are the best standards that I have seen in the past twenty years. If we can design a professional development program of the same caliber to go with these standards, then our nation will be making a substantial first step towards educational excellence in mathematics.”
Furthermore, the K-8 Publisher’s Criteria for Mathematics discusses in depth the coherence of the standards the way they are written in the Common Core. It shares how the standards include coherence across the grade levels and the significance of the vertical links, or progressions. The appendix states that “The standards were not so much assembled out of topics as woven out of progressions. Maintaining these progressions in the implementation of the standards will be important for helping all students learn mathematics at a higher level…. Instruction should reflect the progressions on which the Common Core State Standards are built.”
William H. Schmidt and Richard T. Houang from Michigan State University extensively studied whether or not the Common Core State Standards had the focus, rigor, and coherence that the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) curriculum said were characteristics of high achieving countries around the world. They found that “The consistency of them (CCSS) with the benchmarks derived from standards of the top-achieving countries suggests that the goal of the authors’ that the CCSS be consistent with the internationally benchmarked standards, are coherent, focused, and rigorous has been achieved.”
Misconception #7: The Standards for Mathematical Practice are an add-on.
The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics have two sets of standards; the Standards for Mathematical Content and the Standards for Mathematical Practice. The content standards are different for each grade level and outline what students are expected to understand and be able to do at each grade. They are organized by domain, or concept. Each domain includes related clusters of standards for each grade.
Fourth Grade Content Standards Example
The Standards for Mathematical Practice, however, are the same eight standards across all grade levels K-12. As stated in the Common Core, they represent the “expertise that mathematics educators at all levels should seek to develop in their students.” In other words, they describe what it means to “do” mathematics and apply mathematical content. These standards represent the kind of thinking students do as they are learning the content and how we want our children to engage with the mathematics. Therefore, teachers need to plan for and explicitly teach both the Standards for Mathematical Content and the Standards for Mathematical Practice.
The Standards for Mathematical Practice
The misinterpretations and misgivings that have surfaced around the Common Core are seemingly less about the standards themselves, and more about the implementation of the standards. Each state and district is empowered with a great deal of decision making around how to implement, including what resources they will use, what professional development they will provide, and the curriculum aligned with the standards they will develop. In doing this work, districts must not ever lose sight of the fact that the Common Core State Standards are not a different version of our past standards. The Common Core is representative of an important and essential change in our practice, resulting in rigorous outcomes for our students.
Resources and References
These three links present common myths and the facts about the Common Core State Standards:
Clayton, Heather. “The Thinking Behind the Standards: Standards for Mathematical Practice. “Making the Common Core Come Alive! Access at www.justaskpublications.com/just-ask-resource-center/e-newsletters/mccca/mccca-archives/
Coleman, David and Susan Pimentel. “Revised Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades K–2.” Access at
Coleman, David and Susan Pimentel. “Revised Publishers Criteria for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy, Grades 3–12.” Access at
Fountas, Irene C. and Pinnell, Gay Su. Teaching for Comprehending and Fluency: Thinking, Talking, and Writing About Reading, K-8. Portsmouth: Heinemann. 2006
“High School Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” Access at http://achievethecore.org/content/upload/Math_Publishers_Criteria_HS_Spring_2013_FINAL.pdf
“Introduction to the Common Core State Standards.” Common Core State Standards Initiative. Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Washington, D.C. National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. 2010. Access at www.corestandards.org/assets/ccssi-introduction.pdf
K-8 Publishers’ Criteria for the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.
“Literacy Implementation Guidance for the ELA Common Core State Standards,” International Reading Association. Access at www.reading.org/general/aboutira/white-papers/ela-common-core-standards.aspx
Schmidt, William H. and Richard T. Houang. “Curricular Coherence and the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics.” Michigan State University. Access at http://gse.uci.edu/brownbags/Schmidt_Curricular%20Coherence%20and%20CCSSM_paper.pdf
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Clayton, Heather. “Common Misconceptions about the Common Core.” Making the Common Core Come Alive! Volume III, Issue V, 2014. Available at www.justaskpublications.com. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). ©2014 by Just ASK. All rights reserved.