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FAQ: Answering Questions About Common Core State Standards

Standards Define Skills Students Should Learn in Each Grade


​​To date, 45 states have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and teachers are implementing them in their classrooms. The standards create academic expectations in math and English language arts throughout the country. They are designed to encourage the highest achievement of K-12 students by defining the knowledge, concepts, and skills students should acquire in each grade level.

Many families have questions about the CCSS. In an effort to better explain what the CCSS are and are not, the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) has prepared a list of answers to frequently asked questions.

If you find that some of your questions remain unanswered, please visit SCOE's California Content Standards page or the California Department of Education (CDE) Common Core page for more information.

What are the Common Core State Standards?

California is upgrading our education system. The Common Core State Standards are designed to prepare children for the future by teaching them the real-world skills needed for career and college. Students will learn more and in a more coherent way. One major benefit of the Common Core is to have each state's goals for English and math be similar enough, grade by grade, so that if families move from one state to another their children will have access to the same lessons.

We frequently hear that our students don't measure up internationally. These new standards are also internationally benchmarked. When developing the new Common Core State Standards, planners benchmarked the new standards to those in countries like Singapore, Finland and China where students are highly successful.

Why are we making these changes?

Across the county, there was a great sense that we could do better for our children. California's original standards, though very rigorous, were 15 years old and did not focus enough on preparing students to be college and career ready when they left high school. Employers were telling the education community that our old standards did not focus enough on 21st Century job skills. With these new standards, students have a distinguishable pathway from kindergarten through 12th grade for learning vital foundational skills.

What will be different now for students and teachers?

With the Common Core, students learn material at greater depth so that they are able to use and apply the information. For example, students will be taught to read informational text, write supporting arguments and do mathematics beyond simple calculations. These new sets of standards are coherent across the grade levels and focus on what students need to be successful in college and career.

Teachers can look forward and backwards and see what students have learned in specific areas and grades and build on that to determine what students are expected to know in specific areas.

How do the old and new standards differ?

The Common Core provides more focus and rigor in the early grades. The K-5 standards provide students with a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions and decimals. This will help young students build a firm base so that when students get to the middle grades they have a deeper understanding of the subject and their skills are much more firmly entrenched.

In the area of English language arts, students will devote more time to reading informational text. This will better equip them to comprehend complex manuals and college textbooks when they leave high school. In addition to writing creative essays about their most memorable event or the person who inspires them the most, they'll also be writing arguments, selecting evidence and using that evidence to build an argument and support it.

When do our schools begin using the Common Core?

The State Board of Education adopted the Standards in August 2010 and many districts around the state have been implementing them for the past few years. It's not a totally new thing for them. We now have 45 states using and teaching the Common Core. Five states chose to opt out.

Is the Common Core a "national" or "federal" standard?

Either description is a misnomer. The Common Core State Standards were actually developed collaboratively through the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. They brought in national and international experts to develop a new set of standards. The development started in 2009 and was completed in May 2010.

Are teachers being trained on the new standards?

Districts throughout California are supporting their teachers and administrators through substantial professional development training. Last year alone, SCOE trained more than 4,000 people in a variety of professional development activities. In addition, CDE has created a clearinghouse of Common Core information, which includes professional development modules and a parent handbook (available in 19 languages).

How does testing fit in with the Common Core?

We will be administering the Smarter Balanced Assessments in spring of 2015 and implementing a computer-based testing system. In the past, our state exams have been largely multiple choice tests but on these new assessments students will be analyzing situations and writing short responses. For example, in fourth grade mathematics, students might be asked to consider a scenario where they are out shopping, estimate the value of their purchase, compare it to someone else's estimate, discuss the differences, and determine if they made mistakes.

When grading short answer essays, teachers will use rubrics to measure what students know. They will identify components in the essays which contribute to the final score.

Are schools equipped with enough computers for the testing?

Schools are working hard to make sure they have the proper equipment and that their Internet pipelines are able to receive the assessments. When adopting the California state budget, the Governor and Legislature dedicated more than one billion dollars for schools to use for professional development and/or the purchase of equipment and instructional materials.

What should families do to learn more about the Common Core State Standards and New Assessments?

Families need to get involved and ask questions. Parents and guardians extend the learning at home and it is important that they know all about the new standards and assessments. Families are crucial partners in laying the groundwork for a smooth transition. They should talk to their teachers and principals and attend school board and community meetings to discuss district goals and timelines. If parents and guardians understand what their students are doing, the opportunity for student success increases.


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The California Department of Education (CDE) provides Content Standards information on its website.

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The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative website offers downloadable resources and information.