Understanding the Common Core

  • What are Common Core Learning Standards?

    The Common Core Learning Standards are a set of clear guidelines showing what students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12 should be able to do in reading, writing, speaking and listening, language and mathematics. With these standards, students start by learning basic skills in early grades and build up to mastering more difficult skills and concepts—think of the process as moving up a “staircase of knowledge.”

    By having common standards, all students across the state—and across the country—should have the opportunity to learn the same skills. In the past, every state had its own set of academic standards, meaning U.S. students were learning different skills and concepts at different rates. The Common Core Standards give all students an equal opportunity to learn at higher levels. In turn, pupils should graduate with a greater chance to succeed in college, careers and life.

    Why are Common Core Learning Standards being introduced?

    The new standards are designed to better prepare students to tackle college-level courses and gain skills they’ll need in current and future careers. In New York, fewer than 35 percent of students are graduating from school with the skills they need to pass college courses. Employers in the state and nation report that newly hired staff do not have the basic reading, writing and math skills to do their jobs well. Changing these trends means changing the approaches we use to educate our children.

    What do these changes mean for our children?

    With the new standards, students will be learning skills that are more in-depth, advanced and challenging than the content they learned in the past. These changes are called Common Core “shifts.”

    For example, in English Language Arts (ELA), pupils are:

    • Reading more non-fiction;
    • Learning about the world by reading;
    • Reading more challenging material;
    • Talking about reading using evidence gathered from the material read;
    • Learning how to write based on what was read;
    • Learning more vocabulary words.

    In mathematics, students are:

    • Building on content and concepts learned in the previous grade level;
    • Spending more time on fewer concepts (i.e., learn in a more in-depth way);
    • Developing speed and accuracy in solving problems;
    • Learning to really understand math and how to use it in real-world situations;
    • Proving mathematics knowledge by showing step-by-step how problems were solved.


    New state assessments for all students in grades 3-8

    In 2010, the New York State Education Department adopted the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS). These new, more rigorous standards were developed by education, business and state leaders to better prepare students for career and college success. The result is that students are being asked to learn new skills, concepts and different ways of approaching questions and solving problems. The new standards are reflected in an updated curriculum in our schools that is being fully implemented in the 2013-14 school year.

    The exams that Mechanicville students in grades 3-8 took in 2012-13 were new, and based on CCLS. As a result, we will not be able to compare this year’s exams to last year’s exams in the way that we have in the past. Because the instruction leading up to the tests and the tests themselves were different, any dip in student scores should not be interpreted as a decline in student learning or teacher performance.

    Students' individual test scores mailed home

    Typically the scores on the tests help determine if students need extra help in math or ELA. This extra help, called Academic Intervention Services (AIS), will now be determined on a student’s score on the specific grade-level and subject-area test, not on their overall score. As in the past, these assessments will not factor into a student’s grades for the year. Mechanicville’s teachers and administrators will continue to work diligently to teach the skills that are measured by these exams through thoughtful and engaging lessons and activities – not merely test preparation activities.

    State officials emphasize the fact that these new standards will ultimately strengthen instructional programs and that the exams students took in 2012-13 will serve as a baseline of student performance for us to build on in future years.

    Click here for more information from the State Education Department.

    Click here for more information for parents from Engage NY.