An Introduction to the Common Core State Standards

In this article written for Colorín Colorado, ELL expert Susan Lafond provides an overview the Common Core State Standards and explains what the standards do (and do not) include, as well as some key considerations for English language learners. Part 2 takes an in-depth look at what the Common Core shifts mean for ELLs and their teachers.

What are the Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative is a state-led effort intended to provide more clarity about and consistency in what is expected of student learning across the country. Until now, every state has had its own set of academic standards, meaning public education students at the same grade level in different states have been expected to achieve at different levels.

Who created the Common Core State Standards?

The CCSS Initiative has been coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The standards, developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, were released in June 2010 and as of April 2012, have been adopted by 45 states.

The states that have not adopted the standards are Alaska, Texas, Virginia, and Nebraska. Minnesota has adopted the English Language Arts standards, but not the Math Standards.

Note: The federal government has not been involved in the development of the standards.

What the standards do (and don't) include

What are the goals of the Common Core State Standards?

The common standards define the rigorous skills and knowledge in English language arts and mathematics that need to be effectively taught and learned for all students to be ready to succeed academically in credit-bearing, college-entry courses and workforce training programs. These internationally benchmarked standards will not prevent different levels of achievement among students.

Rather, the goal is to provide more consistent exposure to materials and learning experiences through curriculum, instruction, and teacher preparation among other supports for student learning. This initiative also aims to provide all students with an equal opportunity for a quality education that will prepare them to go to college or enter the workforce, regardless of their zip code.

What's included within the standards?

The standards for English language arts and math provide grade specific standards for grades K-8. Because they focus on results rather than the means, teachers are not told how to teach the content. In other words, there is flexibility in determining how students will reach these standards in the classroom. The standards also don't cover all that can or should be taught, but rather focus on the essentials.

It's important to note that in keeping with advancing technology, multimedia and the strategic and capable use of technology is in embedded throughout both sets of standards.

How do the standards address content-area literacy?

The English language arts standards set requirements not only for language arts and reading but also for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Literacy standards in these content areas for grades 6 and above are a supplemental component to the related content standards, honing in on the challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in classes other the English language arts.

For additional information about the ways in which the standards differ from current language and literacy standards, take a look at Key Shifts of the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy.

Common Core and ELLs

What resources are available for ELLs and special education students?

While the authors have provided guidelines regarding the implementation of the CCSS for ELLs and students with special needs, they have left the specifics of that implementation to districts and states.

Have the new standards been aligned with English Language Proficiency (ELP) standards?

No. Currently, each state has its own ELP standards, which have not, at this point, been aligned with the Common Core State Standards.

About the author

Susan Lafond, a Nationally Board Certified Teacher in English as a New Language (EAYA ENL), has 20 years of combined experience teaching ESL and foreign language. She currently works as a professional development assistant for educators with New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). Susan was appointed to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) English as a New Language Standards Committee in February 2009 to review and revise the existing English as a New Language Standards and most recently participated as a member of the ELA Work Team for the Common Core State Standards Initiative.


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