You’ve probably heard a lot about the Common Core Standards — good and bad. Below is a five-minute refresher on the facts — or an introduction for those who are just searching for information. If you have more time and want detailed information about Utah’s adoption of math and English language arts standards, visit Understanding the Utah Core.
Q: What is the Common Core?
A: “Common Core” is short for Common Core State Standards. The Utah Board of Education began to establish standards in all academic subject areas in the mid-1980s. The Utah Core Standards are periodically reviewed and updated when necessary. The Common Core standards were developed in math and English language arts, and adopted by the Utah State Board of Education in 2010, replacing Utah’s previous standards in these areas. These Utah Core Standards set clear, grade-level expectations in these subjects for students, parents, and teachers. Common Core Standards are NOT a curriculum. Teachers have been using the standards in Utah public schools for the past three years.
Q: Is the Common Core a mandate from the feds?
A: No. In Utah, standards are not connected to any federal funding or directive. The state neither gains nor loses money based on its adoption of the Common Core Standards. Utah voluntarily chose to adopt the standards in 2010. Additionally, Utah can change its standards at any time without penalty. The Utah State Board of Education believes the federal government should have NO role in determining standards, curriculum, and pedagogy in Utah schools. Currently, the federal government has NO influence in Utah’s standards, curriculum, or teaching methods — this includes through the adoption of the Common Core standards in math and English language arts. In 2012, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan responded to then-State Superintendent Larry Shumway regarding the state’s control of the Utah Core Standards. Duncan responded with this letter, asserting the state’s “complete control” of its learning standards in all areas of public education curriculum.
Q: What about President Obama’s Race to the Top program? I keep hearing Utah adopted the Common Core State Standards just to get money from RTTT.
A: This is not true. The Obama Administration encouraged states to adopt “College and Career Ready Standards,” it was not a requirement to get Race to the Top money. The Utah State Board of Education did not adopt the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and English language arts until Aug. 6, 2010. Utah applied for Race to the Top grants twice and was denied twice, once in March 2010 and again in July 2010, before the standards were even adopted. The State Board reviewed the finalized standards when they came out in June 2010, but in truth had been following the development of the standards since September 2009 and received monthly updates from the USOE. Hence, the State Board and its USOE content experts had ample time to review the standards throughout the process and in June and July 2010 prior to the adoption in August. At the time of adoption, Utah had already been eliminated from Race to the Top grants.
Q: What’s the difference between standards and a curriculum?
A: In Utah, local school districts and charters control the curriculum – textbooks, teaching materials and lesson plans – used in the classroom. The Common Core State Standards Initiative includes Appendices with research, guides, and samples for teachers, but does not prescribe curriculum or materials for students. In Utah these curriculum, material, and teaching techniques are decisions left up to districts, schools and teachers. The State Board sets the standards, which are basic benchmarks that students are expected to be able to reach depending on grade level.
Q: I still don’t get it. Can you give me an example?
A: A standard for 4th grade English language arts states: “Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.” The curriculum would include the textbooks, lesson plans, and teaching strategies used by the teacher to allow the child to reach that standard.
Q: Where can I see the standards?
A: Utah’s English Language Arts standards can be seen here. Utah’s Math standards can be seen here. Specialists in the Utah State Office of Education are currently working on updating standards for K-12 Social Studies and K-12 World Languages. Core Standards are revisited in each academic area every four to seven years and have been ever since 1984, when Utah started using common standards in its schools.
Q: What is all this about being “college and career ready”?
A: The Utah Board of Regents estimates that up to 40 percent of college freshman are not ready for college-level math and writing courses, requiring remedial courses that carry no credit. The Utah Core Standards spell out what students needs to know and be able to do at each grade level to be ready for their freshman year – without remediation.
Q: Is Utah part of any outside group that controls its implementation of the Common Core Standards?
A: Early on, two assessment consortia formed — PARCC and SBAC, which stand for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, and Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, respectively. In order to benefit from federal grants being given to these consortia, a state had to actually belong to one. Utah belonged to SBAC and was, in fact, one of the governing states — meaning that we had a great deal of control over the direction of this consortium. But Utah withdrew from SBAC early on and has developed its own assessment system with funding from the Utah State Legislature.
Q: How do the Common Core Standards help families and students who move from district to district or state to state?
A: Families that move across district and state lines can now count on a smoother adjustment for their kids. Keeping the academic core “common” throughout the U.S. allows families to move with the standards and know their children can jump right in without being behind or ahead of their class. This is especially helpful to military families, and several military groups have voiced strong support for the Common Core.
Q: Does the Common Core put my students’ data “out there”?
A: In Utah, standards are not connected to data sharing. The State Longitudinal Data System was established in 1998, long before the Common Core standards were ever discussed, and has nothing to do with the standards. The SLDS releases information about students in aggregate only. More information about the SLDS is available here.
Q: Do Common Core Standards change the way students are tested?
A: There are changes coming, but they are not required because of any Common Core State Standards. Students have been require to take year-end tests for years. No Child Left Behind brought an increased emphasis on testing, with tests being used in a “high stakes” fashion. In 2008, Utah began to field new computer adaptive tests, and the success of this testing system led the Utah State Legislature to establish a computer adaptive testing system statewide in 2013-14. This new CAT system is not mandated by any involvement with the Common Core standards initiative, and will include assessments in science as well as math and English language arts.