Teacher’s Guide to Common Core State Standards

This guide provides an overview of the Common Core State Standards. It is intended to help teachers implement the Common Core in their classrooms. The guide discusses the standards, variations between states, and provides links to resources for teachers who need to adopt the Common Core.

You may have heard the term before, but what is the Common Core ? Well, the Common Core is a comprehensive set of academic standards for primary and secondary education in the United States. It's based on fundamental principles that often differ from previous education standards.

Before the development and implementation of the Common Core, individual states and school districts used an assortment of approaches to education. The Common Core was developed to ensure that teachers adhere to a certain set of standards and that students receive a similar quality education across the country. Though a comprehensive standard, the Common Core does vary slightly from state to state.

What Are the General Standards?

Common Core standards are organized into English language arts (ELA) standards and math standards. Notably, while general standards are intended to be implemented universally, the Common Core developers also created specific grade-level standards. This way, an eighth-grader from Montana receives a similar education to an eighth-grader from Georgia.

  • Grades kindergarten through eighth have their own standard. (Kindergarten Common Core standards are foundational.)
  • Grades 9-12 in high school are organized into two bands. (Grades 9-10 form one band, while grades 11-12 form another band.)
  • Common Core ELA standards should be promoted in non-ELA classrooms, such as geography, history, and science.

English and Language Arts Standards (ELA)

Common Core ELA standards are intended to ensure that students are 'college and career ready.' In general, Common Core standards (ELA) can be broken into ten areas.

According to the standards, students should be taught to:

  • Read closely and cite specific evidence from a text when speaking or writing.
  • Identify the main idea or main theme of a text.
  • Analyze and understand how a text is organized and structured.
  • Evaluate the claims and lines of reasoning that an author makes in a text.
  • Reflect on a text's point-of-view and perspective.
  • Understand how specific words, phrases, or tones reflect the author's meaning.
  • Analyze the development and interaction between different people and ideas in a text.
  • Become familiar with different types of information, such as quantitative data.
  • Comprehend complex texts and information.
  • Compare, contrast, and analyze a variety of texts to identify themes and textual or literary problems .

The above standards are taken from the Common Core State Standards (CCSS ) planning documents.

Mathematics Standards

You may also be wondering, 'what is Common Core math?' The Common Core is designed with the idea that math instruction should not focus on teaching students to memorize formulas or use tricks to get the correct answer to a problem. Instead, Common Core functions are based on the idea that mathematics is a discipline that includes many interconnected concepts . As a result, Common Core math instruction dispenses with the chore of memorization and focuses on teaching students the discipline's conceptual framework.

Furthermore, Common Core math is based on using each grade as an opportunity to build upon prior knowledge and create a foundation for more complex concepts. According to the Common Core State Standard Initiative (CCSSI), a Common Core math education relies on eight standards/practices.

Students in a Common Core math classroom should be able to:

  • Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them

  • Reason abstractly and quantitatively

  • Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others

  • Model with mathematics

  • Use appropriate mathematical tools strategically

  • Attend to precision in calculations

  • Look for and make use of structured number systems, geometry, and mathematical patterns

  • Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning in terms of mathematical patterns and processes

The above processes are taken from CCSS planning documents.

How the Does Common Core Depart from Previous Standards?

In addition to the previously mentioned standards, the Common Core is meant to depart from traditional curriculums in fundamental ways. For example, it does not embrace a piece-meal approach to teaching specific aspects of a subject area; nor does it focus on results or solutions. Instead, the Common Core focuses on teaching processes. For instance, students in Common Core classrooms are asked to demonstrate an understanding of a process rather than simply provide the correct result.

How Does the Common Core ELA Depart from Previous ELA Standards?

Common Core ELA classrooms are intended to be fundamentally different from most non-Common Core classrooms. The major ways that Common Core ELA teaching departs from traditional ELA teaching include the following.

Engagement with Complex Texts: Rather than just reading 'canon' texts or popular fiction, the Common Core emphasizes student engagement with 'complex texts.' Such texts include books, essays, historical primary sources, poems, and more. Complex texts generally require students to grapple with context, meaning, and other factors. Finally, complex texts are often more academic in scope than other writing.

Evidence-Based Writing: The Common Core departs from writing based on personal experiences or feelings. Importantly, the Common Core greatly emphasizes the identification and use of evidence in reading and writing. In a Common Core classroom, students must identify examples in a complex text and then use those examples to support the claims in their arguments. Additionally, students must analyze, contextualize, and connect pieces of evidence in their writing.

Emphasis on Nonfiction: Whereas previous curriculums assigned a significant weight to fiction, the Common Core emphasizes nonfiction. In many grades, the Common Core stipulates that at least half of the readings must be nonfiction works. This is because the designers of the Common Core believe that nonfiction provides students with a better foundation for understanding the world's complexities. Examples of nonfiction include autobiographies, business case studies, historical documents, and more.

Text-Based Writing Assignments: While creative writing has traditionally been a significant component of many K-12 writing curriculums, the Common Core writing standards emphasize informed writing based on texts. This approach is much like the SAT and ACT writing components that require students to read texts and then respond to an essay prompt. Importantly, students are asked to read a text, analyze it, draw conclusions, and write an essay based on their analysis and conclusions. This component builds on the evidence-based writing component of the Common Core.

High-Frequency Words: Unlike traditional curriculums, the Common Core emphasizes the teaching of high-frequency words. High-frequency words are also known as 'Tier 2' words. Tier 2 words are somewhat complex, academic words. Tier 2 words are also those that appear in complex texts relatively often. The Common Core ELA curriculum is built on the idea that students should recognize Tier 2 words and understand them on sight. Recognizing Tier 2 words helps students contextualize and comprehend other words that may be more complex and/or are used less frequently in texts.

Integration of Literacy and Writing in Content Areas: Unlike a traditional curriculum, where non-ELA courses are relatively self-contained, the Common Core approach stipulates that non-ELA subjects should integrate literacy and writing into their instruction. In this way, while the subject matter may be different in, say, a history class, the processes and skills taught are similar to those in an ELA classroom.

How Does Common Core Math Depart from Previous Math Standards?

Just like with ELA, Common Core math standards depart dramatically from previous approaches to teaching. Common Core math is focused on the process rather than the result. Building on this, the Common Core approach does not encourage students to memorize dozens of formulas. The significant ways that Common Core math teaching departs from traditional math teaching include the following.

Focus on Fewer Concepts

At the center of the Common Core approach to math is teaching a handful of essential math concepts. Previously, state standards required students to memorize many concepts and formulas, an approach that proved challenging for some students. As a result, the study of math in grades K-12 was often relegated to memorization. The Common Core, by comparison, teaches students across the grade levels to focus on a handful of foundational concepts rather than the memorization of many concepts and formulas.

Some important grade-level concepts include:

  • Common Core addition and subtraction in kindergarten through grade 2
  • Common Core multiplication and division in grades 3-5
  • Common Core ratios and proportions in grade 7
  • Common Core Algebra 1 and linear functions in grade 8
  • Common Core Algebra 2, geometry, and trigonometry in grades 9-12

Build on Previous Concepts

The grade-by-grade approach outlined above allows Common Core math teachers to build on concepts taught in prior grades. In the Common Core model, teachers are meant to teach new concepts in each grade. Importantly, though, teachers spend substantial time linking new concepts with previously taught concepts. For example, Common Core math teachers will spend significant time revisiting addition and subtraction and connecting those concepts to multiplication and division in grades 3, 4, and 5.

Demonstrate and Understand Concepts

Importantly, Common Core math does not focus on students arriving at the correct solution to a problem; instead, it focuses on teaching students how to work through issues and show that they understand a problem to solve it with different variables. In this approach, the process of arriving at a solution is as necessary as the solution itself. This differs from a previous approach to math which emphasized results/solutions.

What States Have Adopted Common Core?

After its implementation in 2009-2010, 46 states adopted the Common Core standards. Four states never adopted the standards. Since that time, many states have revised their standards, while five states have abandoned the Common Core altogether.

States Currently Using Common Core

For links to each state's authority on the Common Core, visit the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Initiative is a partnership between the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

States that have adopted and currently use the Common Core include:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota (only adopted ELA)
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

States (and territories) that do not use the Common Core include:

  • Alaska
  • Nebraska
  • Texas
  • Virginia

Several states initially adopted the Common Core but have since abandoned the program. They include:

  • Arizona
  • Florida
  • Indiana
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina

Differences in Emphasis from State to State

Importantly, standards from state to state are almost identical. The adoption of the Common Core means that states embrace the standards and processes for educating students. Generally, any differences from state to state can be attributed to the differences in emphasis on specific points or processes. Some differences in state-to-state standards include the following.

Definition of ELA 'Text Complexity'

Text complexity refers to the teaching of highly sophisticated texts and ensuring that students can comprehend those texts. The following states have provided weak guidance on the definition of 'text complexity' in ELA instruction:

  • Georgia
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • Pennsylvania
  • West Virginia

Other states have concrete definitions of a 'complex text.'

Differences in Math Instruction and Emphasis

While most states' specific standards typically match the Common Core State Standards guide in English language arts instruction, math instruction is much more varied. According to a recent report by the think tank Achieve, several states have deviated substantially from Common Core State Standard math practices.

Those states are:

  • Alabama, which has minimal inclusion of statistical topics in high school through Algebra II
  • Georgia, which has little focus on mathematical modeling in high school through Algebra II or higher
  • Missouri, which has little emphasis on core mathematical practices, little focus on conceptual understanding and application, little expectation of students knowing single-digit sums from memory, and little focus on modeling in high school through Algebra II or higher
  • North Carolina, which has little focus on modeling in high school through Algebra II or higher
  • North Dakota, which has little emphasis on students understanding single-digit sums from memory
  • Pennsylvania, which has little emphasis on arithmetic in K-5, little focus on conceptual understanding and application, little expectation on students knowing single-digit sums from memory, minimal emphasis on addressing critical topics in grades 6-8, minimal focus on modeling in high school through Algebra II or higher, and minimal inclusion of statistical topics in high school through Algebra II
  • Utah, which has little focus on modeling in high school through Algebra II or higher

What Are Helpful Resources for Teaching Common Core State Standards?

Since the Common Core was launched in 2009, educators and Common Core curriculum designers have created many resources for teachers who need or want to implement the Common Core in their classrooms. While many resources are available on websites like Study.com, others are available through local and state education authorities.

Teachers looking to familiarize themselves with the basic standards may start with a general Common Core ELA guide as an introduction. Sample ELA lesson plan templates can also be helpful steppingstones to incorporating these standards in your classroom.

There are also subject specific resources. Common Core Writing Activities resources can help teachers bring Common Core writing activities to their 5th-grade classrooms. Common Core math standards guides can serve as an introduction to the Common Core standards for math teachers.

In addition to the above guides, Study.com has other resources that make Common Core ELA and math teaching fun and relevant, such as activities for teachers who want to celebrate National pi Day in their classrooms or demonstrate the importance of math in the real world.

Governmental Resources

Local school boards and state departments of education have a wide variety of Common Core resources for teachers. In addition, other institutions offer free or low-cost resources.

Some of these resources are provided by: