Although not an advertised topic for the ASCD Summer Conference, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) seemed to be a part of most of the sessions I visited. And for good reason: 43 states and DC have fully adopted them and are already working on a cross-walk from their current state standards to the Common Core. Oh, and by the 2014-15 school year there will be assessments created by two state consortia that will evaluate student progress on these new standards. I am disappointed that the state I taught in, Washington, has only provisionally adopted them pending the state legislature giving the final OK. The State’s lack in embracing the CCSS was part of the reason their application for the Race to the Top grant didn’t go very far, not to mention that delaying will only mean less time to get ready for those assessments and more educators feeling rushed to align their curriculum, not to mention simply become introduced to the standards and fully understand them. Heidi Hayes Jacobs put it this way: “Good information lowers anxiety. Lack of information causes it.”
The speakers at the conference all recognized that the CCSS are the new reality but to a one, they emphasized the importance of really reading the standards, really understanding them, but cautioning that the goal is not to meet the Common Core Standards but to meet the standards along the way.
Here are some of my favorite anecdotes about this idea:
- Standards, or the CCSS, are like building codes: The ultimate goal is not to meet them. You don’t say, “I’m going to build a house to code!” That’s understood and says nothing about the design of the house.
- When building a house you don’t make the blueprint up along the way. In other words, you still have to have a plan, or a goal. The standards inform this goal but don’t dictate it.
- Content acquisition is the means, not the end.
- Standards are the design considerations.
Another theme that came up again and again was what some speakers called “unwrapping” or “unpacking” the CCSS. This close and careful reading of the standards has to do with taking an individual standard or anchors and pick out the verbs, nouns and noun phrases, and key qualifiers and determining their meaning local curriculum, instruction and assessment.
For example, CCSS RI.8.9 says:
Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.
Paying attention to the important parts of speech you get:
Analyze conflicting information and identify disagree(ment).
As an English Language Arts teacher, or a teacher who expected the students to read in their class (hint: that’s everyone), it is also important to understand how this particular standard has increased in sophistication from, say 6th grade:
Compare and contrast one author’s presentation of events with that of another (e.g., a memoir written by and a biography on the same person).
Furthermore, both of these standards are the grade level equivalent of the overall anchor (#9, in this case), or what the students should be able to do by the end of the year:
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
Overall I am very happy that this educational movement for common standards is here and pleased that those advocating for it are reminding everyone that they are not the end goal, they are student learning and deep understanding. Which leads me to my next topic, Understanding by Design …