Talking to Parents About the Common Core


For K-12 educators, “back to school” means not only back to the classroom and students, but also back to the questions and concerns of parents. Educators in states adopting the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) may encounter questions, apprehension, or even skepticism from parents about the new standards. Above all, parents will want to know how the new Common Core standards will impact their children.

To help educators answer parent inquires, we’ve compiled a list of eight probable questions and potential answers to help you discuss the Common Core State Standards with parents. These discussions can increase parental engagement as parents gain understanding of their children’s educational goals.

1.     What are educational standards and why are they important?

Often, parents think educational standards are the same as curriculum; they may be concerned that standards dictate exactly what is taught and how it is taught every day. Actually, educational standards are better understood as goals for learning. Standards describe what students need to master by the end of a school year. Because they are goals, standards shape and inform curriculum, but they do not mandate the details of instruction.

Educational standards are important because they provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn and know. They provide students a well-defined target at which to aim, and guide educators and parents in their efforts to help students reach their academic goals.

2.     How were the CCSS developed?

The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Teachers, parents, administrators, and researchers worked together to design the standards through extensive review cycles. Each state independently decided whether or not to implement the CCSS. However, there were significant financial incentives to adopt the standards, because Race to the Top funding was tied to the implementation. State and local educators are leading Common Core implementations. 

3.     How are CCSS different from most state standards?

The Common Core State Standards were developed using the most highly regarded state and international standards, as well as current research on what students need to know in order to demonstrate 21st century college and career readiness. Most educators feel that the new standards and assessments are more rigorous and place greater focus on real-world problem solving than previous state standards. In addition, the CCSS place a greater emphasis on applying knowledge, rather than memorizing and regurgitating facts. 

4.     How will the CCSS be assessed?

There are two comprehensive assessment groups that have been awarded Race to the Top funds to develop CCSS assessments: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced).

Both PARCC and Smarter Balanced are developing assessments that include technology-enhanced item types and performance-based tasks. And both will deliver their assessments via computers.

Check out one of my previous posts for more details on these consortia.

5.     Will the new standards mean more tests for my child? 

The answer to this question varies. Is your state a member of PARCC or Smarter Balanced? Some states have left the two consortia and are partnering with other assessment companies that are building assessments aligned to the CCSS. Some districts add additional assessments on top of those required by the states for accountability.

If you are in a state and district that is planning to implement only the PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments, your child should not be tested any more than he or she already is. Both consortia offer similar assessments throughout the year. They have two optional diagnostic assessments that can be given at the beginning and middle of the school year. Then, they are providing mandatory performance-based tasks and summative assessments at the end of the year.

An important side note: Typically, when there is a major change in standards and assessments there will be an adjustment period of several years as teachers and students become accustomed to the new demands. Given the emphasis on high-stakes assessments, it is understandable that parents, students, and the media may express concern if test scores decline. However, this period of adjustment is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the standards or the assessments. It is just an expected part of the implementation of new standards and systems of measurement. 

6.     How is my child’s school preparing for the new standards?

Make sure to include three key elements in your response to this question. First, share your school’s timeline for implementation. Most states have gradual implementation plans, beginning with the lower grades and working up to middle and high school grades. So, many states and teachers have already been working with the Common Core for several years. This has enabled schools to make adjustments as needed, and has also allowed states to develop resources to aid implementation, including curricular cross-walks comparing old and new standards, unit plans, and training opportunities.

Second, share your school’s professional development plan as it relates to CCSS. Training should be focused on understanding the standards and how they should inform instruction, include concrete plans to ensure students realize Common Core success. Training should also be ongoing. A “fire-hose” approach immediately prior to implementation will not be as successful as gradual, on-going training, because teachers need time to understand the day-to-day, classroom challenges of implementing the CCSS.

Third, be prepared to discuss your school’s technology infrastructure as it relates to/supports Common Core.

7.     What are the most common misconceptions about CCSS? 

I believe the primary resistance to the Common Core is based on the fact that the CCSS are incorrectly perceived as a federal mandate. In actuality, the development of the Common Core was a state-led movement. However, it is true that federal Race to the Top funding did provide the “carrot on the stick,” encouraging states to implement Common Core. The second grievance that is frequently voiced is that the Common Core is a national curriculum, mandating exactly what and how teachers teach. As I mentioned in my response to Question 1, the Common Core State Standards are educational goals, not a curriculum; they do not dictate what, when, or how teachers should teach. 

8.     What are the perceived benefits of CCSS?

One of the most important benefits of the Common Core State Standards is uniformity. As our society becomes increasingly mobile and global, the new standards ensure that our students will be on par with other students across the nation and across the globe. With the substantial differences in state standards, comparing student performance across states was often a case of comparing apples to oranges. Also, many studies found that students in the U.S. were falling behind their counterparts in other nations. Unified standards will be a start to addressing these discrepancies.

In addition, if implemented correctly, students will graduate from high school demonstrating college and career readiness. While I acknowledge this phrase is somewhat overused in our industry right now, it is relevant to any discussion of new standards, because the shifts in the CCSS are designed to help students meet the demands of a changing world. For example, the increased emphasis on real-world problem solving will allow high school graduates to be able to articulate the “how” and “why” and not just the “what.”

In math, this means understanding not just computation, but also how and why you apply certain computations to solve problems. This type of understanding better facilitates innovation and critical thinking. In English/language arts, the focus on non-fiction text and demonstrating text evidence better prepares students for post-secondary and professional reading and writing. The overarching goal is to better prepare our students to compete in a global economy.

Finally, teachers benefit from the ability to share – ideas, resources, effective teaching methods, lesson plans, professional development, and more – across the entire country. And, if the Common Core State Standards are implemented well, they will free teachers from having to “teach to the test” and allow them to coach students to apply, deepen, and extend their learning.

How about you? Are you getting questions from your parents regarding Common Core? What are they asking and how are you responding?

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