The following provides answers to some of the frequently asked questions about the Common Core State Standards, from how they were developed to what they mean for states and local communities.
What are educational standards?
Educational standards are the learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Education standards, like Common Core are not a curriculum. Local communities and educators choose their own curriculum, which is a detailed plan for day to day teaching. In other words, the Common Core is what students need to know and be able to do, and curriculum is how students will learn it. The Common Core State Standards are educational standards for English language arts (ELA)/literacy and mathematics in grades K-12. Please click here to read the ELA Common Core State Standards and click here to read the mathematics standards.
What is the Common Core?
State education chiefs and governors in 48 states came together to develop the Common Core, a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Today, 42 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted and are working to implement the standards, which are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take credit bearing introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.
Who led the development of the Common Core State Standards?
States led the development of the Common Core State Standards. In 2009, state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, came together and decided to develop common, college- and career-ready standards in mathematics and English language arts. They worked through their membership organizations – the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) – to accomplish this. The development process included defining expectations for what every child should know and be able to do when they graduate from high school and then creating content standards for grades K-12 aligned with these expectations. States relied on workgroups of educators, representatives of higher education and other experts to write the standards with significant input from the public in 2009 and 2010. States then appointed a validation committee to review the final standards. The federal government was not involved in the development of the standards. The final standards were published in June 2010 and available for each state to review, consider and voluntarily adopt. More detailed information on the development process is available in the complete timeline of the process or The Common Core State Standards: Insight into their Development and Purpose paper.
Were teachers involved in the creation of the standards?
Yes, teachers have been a critical voice in the development of the standards. The Common Core drafting process relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country. The National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), among other organizations, were instrumental in bringing together teachers to provide specific, constructive feedback on the standards.
Why are the Common Core State Standards important?
High standards that are consistent across states provide teachers, parents, and students with a set of clear expectations to ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life upon graduation from high school, regardless of where they live. These standards are aligned to the expectations of colleges, workforce training programs, and employers. The standards promote equity by ensuring all students are well prepared to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad. Unlike previous state standards, which varied widely from state to state, the Common Core enables collaboration among states on a range of tools and policies, including the:
- Development of textbooks, digital media, and other teaching materials
- Development and implementation of common comprehensive assessment systems that replace existing state testing systems in order to measure student performance annually and provide teachers with specific feedback to help ensure students are on the path to success
- Development of tools and other supports to help educators and schools ensure all students are able to learn the new standards
What guidance do the Common Core State Standards provide to teachers?
The Common Core State Standards are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills students need in English language arts and mathematics at each grade level so they can be prepared to succeed in college, career, and life. The standards establish what students need to learn, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach. Teachers will devise their own lesson plans and curriculum, and tailor their instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.
How do the Common Core State Standards compare to previous state education standards?
The Common Core was developed by building on the best state standards in the United States; examining the expectations of other high-performing countries around the world; and carefully studying the research and literature available on what students need to know and be able to do to be successful in college, career, and life. No state was asked to lower their expectations for students in adopting the Common Core. The evidence-based standards were developed in consultation with teachers and parents from across the country, so they are also realistic and practical for the classroom.
How much will it cost states to implement the Common Core State Standards?
Costs for implementing the standards will vary from state to state and territory. While states already spend significant amounts of money on professional development, curriculum materials, and assessments, there will be some additional costs associated with the Common Core, such as training teachers to teach the standards, developing and purchasing new materials, and other aspects of implementation. However, there are also opportunities for states to save considerable resources by using technology, open-source materials, and taking advantage of cross-state opportunities that come from sharing consistent standards.
What is the appropriate way to cite the Common Core State Standards?
What grade levels are included in the Common Core State Standards?
The English language arts and math standards are for grades K-12. Research from the early childhood and higher education communities also informed the development of the standards.
Is adoption of the standards voluntary?
Yes. Adoption of the standards is voluntary. It is up to each state and territory to decide if they choose to adopt the Common Core State Standards as their state educational standards in English language arts and mathematics. States can tailor the standards to address their needs. Here is a map showing the states that have adopted the standards.
Where can I find the Common Core State Standards for ELA and mathematics?
What evidence and research were used to develop the standards?
The following criteria guided the content and skills included in the Common Core State Standards:
- Alignment with expectations for college and career success
- Consistency across all states
- Inclusion of content and the application of knowledge through high-order skills
- Improvement upon current state standards and standards of top-performing nations
- Reality-based for effective use in the classroom
- Evidence- and research-based
- Scholarly research (see research base for Mathematics here (pages 91-93) and for English language arts (ELA) see Appendix A.)
- Surveys on the skills required of students entering college and workforce training programs
- Assessment data identifying college- and career-ready performance
- Comparisons to standards from high-performing states and nations
- National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) frameworks in reading and writing for English language arts
- Findings from Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) and other studies, which conclude that the traditional U.S. mathematics curriculum must become substantially more coherent and focused in order to improve student achievement
What role did international benchmarking play in the development of the standards?
International benchmarking refers to analyzing high-performing education systems and identifying ways to improve our own system based on those findings. One of the ways to analyze education systems is to compare international assessments, particularly the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Prior to the development of the Common Core State Standards, research revealed striking similarities among the standards in top-performing nations, along with stark differences between those world-class expectations and the standards adopted by most U.S. states. As a result, standards from top-performing countries were consulted during the development of the Common Core State Standards. The college- and career-ready standards appendix lists the evidence consulted.
Why are the Common Core State Standards only for English language arts and math?
English language arts and math were the subjects chosen for the Common Core State Standards because they are areas upon which students build skill sets that are used in other subjects. Students must learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in a variety of content areas, so the standards specify the literacy skills and understandings required for college and career readiness in multiple disciplines. It is important to note that the literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects for grades 6–12 are meant to supplement content standards in those areas, not replace them. States determine how to incorporate these standards into their standards for those subjects or adopt them as content area literacy standards.
Are there plans to develop common standards in other areas in the future?
CCSSO and NGA are not leading the development of standards in other academic content areas. Below is information on efforts of other organizations to develop standards in other academic subjects.
- Science: States have developed Next Generation Science Standards in a process managed by Achieve, with the help of the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. More information about this effort can be found here.
- World languages: The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages published an alignment of the National Standards for Learning Languages with the ELA Common Core State Standards. More information about this effort can be found here.
- Arts: The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards is leading the revision of the National Standards for Arts Education. More information about this effort can be found here.
Implementation and Future Work
What do the Common Core State Standards mean for students?
Today’s students are preparing to enter a world in which colleges and businesses are demanding more than ever before. To ensure all students are prepared for success after graduation, the Common Core establishes a set of clear, consistent guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in math and English language arts.
How do the Common Core State Standards impact teachers?
The standards impact teachers by:
- Providing them with consistent goals and benchmarks to ensure students are progressing on a path for success in college, career, and life
- Providing them with consistent expectations for students who move into their districts and classrooms from other states
- Providing them the opportunity to collaborate with teachers across the country as they develop curricula, materials, and assessments linked to high-quality standards
- Helping colleges and professional development programs better prepare teachers
What supports are being provided to teachers to help them ensure students are prepared to reach the new goals established by the Common Core?
Decisions on how to implement the standards, including the right supports to put in place, are made at the state and local levels. As such, states and localities are taking different approaches to implementing the standards and providing their teachers with the supports they need to help students successfully reach the standards. To learn how states are supporting teachers and implementing their new standards, visit the "Standards in Your State" section for a map linking to the state-specific implementation page.
Do the standards tell teachers what to teach?
Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers decide how best to help students reach the standards.
Who will manage the Common Core State Standards in the future?
The Common Core State Standards are and will remain a state-led effort, and adoption of the standards and any potential revisions will continue to be a voluntary state decision. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers will continue to serve as the two leading organizations with ownership of the Common Core and will make decisions about the timing and substance of future revisions to the standards in consultation with the states. Federal funds have never and will never be used to support the development or governance of the Common Core or any future revisions of the standards. Any future revisions will be made based on research and evidence. Governance of the standards will be independent of governance of related assessments.
Will common assessments be developed?
States continue to have the flexibility and authority to choose the assessment they believe is best to measure statewide academic standards. Many states have decided to work with other states to develop common assessments that will provide meaningful feedback to parents, teachers and policymakers to ensure all students are progressing toward attaining the skills they need to be successful in college, careers and life. Two state-led consortia exist today: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (Smarter Balanced). States within these consortia have been working to develop these assessments since 2010, working with teachers in each state to write test questions and field-testing these assessments to make sure they are fully aligned with state standards. The tests were fully administered for the first time in the 2014-2015 school year. For more information on the test your state has chosen to use as one measure of a student’s academic progress each year, visit your state education agency website or download the National PTA’s assessment guide for your state. Additionally, there are two state-led consortia working through the National Center and State Collaborative Partnership (NCSC) and the Dynamic Learning Maps Alternative Assessment System Consortium (DLM) to create a new generation of assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. There are also two state-led consortia, ASSETS and ELPA21, developing assessments for English language learners.
Will CCSSO and the NGA Center be creating common instructional materials and curricula?
No. The standards are not curricula and do not mandate the use of any particular curriculum. Teachers are able to develop their own lesson plans and choose materials, as they have always done. States that have adopted the standards may choose to work together to develop instructional materials and curricula. As states work individually to implement their new standards, publishers of instructional materials and experienced educators will develop new resources around these shared standards.
Are there data collection requirements associated with the Common Core State Standards?
No. Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not require data collection. Standards define expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. The means of assessing students and the data that result from those assessments are up to the discretion of each state and are separate and unique from the Common Core.
What does the Common Core mean for students with disabilities and English language learners?
The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers strongly believe that all students should be held to the same high expectations. However, how students meet these expectations will and should differ based on children’s needs. For more specific information on the application of the Common Core State Standards for students with disabilities, please click here, and for information on application for English language learners, please click here.
How can I help my child meet the goals of the Common Core?
The Common Core State Standards provide clear and transparent benchmarks that parents can use to track if their children are on the path toward college and career readiness. Still, these are higher standards and parents may find the methods and approaches different or have difficulty helping their children with homework as states transition to these standards. Fortunately, these standards provide a great starting point for parents to have a conversation with their child’s teacher about what their child should be learning in the classroom and how families may be able to help their children outside of school. Additionally, online resources such as Be a Learning Hero are designed to assist parents in helping their children. This site includes resources developed to support your child’s learning in Math and English language arts at home. Parents can search by state, grade, subject and type and access resources to support children outside of the classroom.
Content and Quality of the Standards
Do the Common Core State Standards incorporate both content and skills?
Yes. In English language arts, the standards require certain critical content for all students, including:
- Classic myths and stories from around the world
- America's founding documents
- Foundational American literature
- Whole numbers
How complex are the texts suggested by the English language arts standards?
The Common Core State Standards create a staircase of increasing text complexity, so that students are expected to both develop their skills and apply them to more and more complex texts. For example, the English language arts standards suggest Grapes of Wrath as a text that would be appropriate for 9th or 10th grade readers. For more information on suggested texts, please see Appendix A, the Supplement to Appendix A, and Appendix B.
Do the English language arts standards include a required reading list?
No. The Common Core State Standards include sample texts that demonstrate the level of text complexity appropriate for the grade level and compatible with the learning demands set out in the standards. The exemplars of high-quality texts at each grade level provide a rich set of possibilities. This ensures teachers have the flexibility to make their own decisions about what texts to use, while providing an excellent reference point when selecting their texts.
What types of texts are recommended for the English language arts standards?
The Common Core State Standards require certain critical content for all students. In addition to content coverage, the standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening. English teachers will still teach their students the literature and literary nonfiction texts that they choose. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science.
Why is the sequence of key math topics in the math standards important?
The mathematical progressions, or sequencing of topics, presented in the Common Core State Standards are coherent and based on evidence. Part of the problem with having many different sets of state standards was that different states covered different topics at different grade levels. Coming to a consensus on the standards guarantees that, from the viewpoint of any given state, topics will move up or down in a consistent grade level sequence. What is important to keep in mind is that the progression in the Common Core is mathematically coherent and leads to college and career readiness at an internationally competitive level.
Are the standards developmentally appropriate for students?
The expectations of students in the Common Core State Standards are backed by research and the expertise of educators of what is developmentally appropriate for children to know and be able to do in literacy and math in early grades. For more detailed information on what the Common Core says about English Language Arts and Literacy in Kindergarten and the research supporting it, please take a look at this fact sheet compiled by Student Achievement Partners. As or perhaps more important for standards being developmentally appropriate is how standards are taught, which is determined locally by communities and educators. An example is how this might work with the kindergarten math standard, “Fluently add and subtract within 5.” It is developmentally appropriate to expect students by the end of kindergarten to be able to do this. However, it is not developmentally appropriate for kindergarteners to be sitting quietly alone at their desks completing worksheets for 30 minutes on adding and subtracting within 5. It would be developmentally appropriate for kindergarteners to be playing a game with other children that helped them build this skill, with a teacher supporting and guiding their learning. In fact, the standards themselves point to the importance of play stating, “[T]he use of play with young children is not specified by the Standards, but it is welcome as a valuable activity in its own right and as a way to help students meet the expectations in this document.” The standards welcome play and encourage implementation of instruction that is play-based, engaging, and cognitively enriching. Early childhood experts and national education organizations have discussed research supporting the developmental appropriateness of the Common Core State Standards including the National Association for Education of Young Children, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and early childhood expert Douglas Clements.
How can I tell if texts are aligned to the Common Core State Standards?
The standards are not curricula and do not mandate the use of any particular curriculum. Therefore, the Common Core State Standards does not prescribe instructional materials or lessons. States and organizations have come up with tools and rubrics to help inform decisions about purchasing materials and build understanding of what aligned materials look like. There are resources developed by education organizations to help communities make informed decisions about instructional materials, such as EdReports.org, Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products (EQuIP), Instructional Materials Evaluation Tool (IMET), and the Textbook Navigator.