States free to choose Common Core

Marty Hobe GateHouse Media Illinois

In 2009 the National Governors Association began drafting standards that would become known as the “Common Core.” All but six states have now become members of the initiative.

The NGA along with the Chief State School Officers commissioned a group of experts to craft standards that “provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them,” according to corestandards.org.

A common misperception is Common Core standards were set by the federal government, and implemented in the states similar to the Affordable Care Act.

However, states were free to choose if they would implement the core standards or not. Since its introduction in 2009, 44 states, including Illinois, have implemented the standards.

In Illinois, the standards were adopted in 2010, and implemented for the 2013-14 school year.

Here are the changes under Illinois state law:

Emphasis on non-fiction

According to the Common Core standards’ website, students should be immersed in information. Reading non-fiction is supposed to get students to think critically and build content knowledge. In kindergarten through fifth grade, the standards call for a 50-50 split between non-fiction and fiction. From sixth grade through high school, the focus shifts to the specific categories of non-fiction, offering deeper study into one topic rather than many small studies of multiple topics.

Focus on analytical writing

Still in line with building content knowledge and critical thinking, the standards call for writing assignments to ask more rigorous questions that require the student to read the text, and not simply answer based on prior knowledge. The Common Core webpage said it forces the students to read texts more carefully, absorbing more of the information.  

More in-depth with fewer math topics

Topics in math are to be explored with more depth, rather than cramming as many topics into a school year as possible. So under the Common Core standards, the topics are broken up into grade levels. From kindergarten until second grade, students focus on problem solving based on addition and subtraction. From third to fifth, multiplication and division. In sixth grade, algebra is introduced along with ratios and fractions. In seventh, the curriculum adds rational numbers to the material learned in sixth grade. Finally in eighth grade, students will learn full-scale algebra.

Programs for students with disabilities

Though students with learning disabilities do not have to learn in a normal classroom setting, they are still expected to meet the standards of Common Core, specifically in research-based instructional practices. They are entered into what’s called an Individualized Education Program that customizes goals for the student to help them reach the same standards set at that grade level in a healthy environment for the student. To help these students reach these goals, specialized technology will be introduced to assist with the learning practice.

Emphasis on new technology

With the changing world of technology outside the classroom, Common Core aims to bring it into the curriculum. Along with assistant technologies for students with disabilities, new technology will offer several new ways to help students learn math and English. In math, computers can help students visualize the results of solving a math problem. In English, students will learn how to utilize the Internet properly for things like research.

ISAT no longer used

The ISAT Test has been eliminated and will be replaced with a new form of tests that encompasses the Common Core standards, and will be used for teacher evaluations. Last year was the last time it will be administered.

Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education, said the ISAT will not be used for ranking students and evaluating teachers, and instead will be replaced with a new test. School districts choose which assessment they wish to use. There are federal, state and local assessments, the details of which were not available. Fergus said the districts can form joint-committees of teachers and administrators to choose the assessment they feel is best for the school.

The state recommends the districts use local assessments, and avoid the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) federal assessment.  

Group focused on repeal

Common Core has been met with criticism. In Illinois, the group “Stop Common Core Illinois,” has been the group solely focused on its repeal. One of the main arguments of SCCI is that the test inaccurately ranks students, which in turn is unfairly used to evaluate teachers.

SCCI also claims the new technologies and services introduced through Common Core are too invasive and use schools to collect data on children to use when they become adults.

Other arguments include a lack of sexual education standards, too few math topics from kindergarten to sixth grade and standards too high to be met by a large portion of students.