The Common Core in PA

Are you confused about the implementation of the Common Core standards in PA?  You are not alone!  In 2010, PA adopted the National Common Core standards.  After analyzing the national standards, a group of educators crafted the PA Common Core State Standards.  The PA Common Core standards are closely aligned with the National Common Core (about 85%), with a few adjustments made to better fit the needs of Pennsylvania students.   Since the PA Common Core has been implemented, there has been some confusion about the accuracy of age-appropriate goals to be mastered, teaching methods being restricted and student data privacy issues.  In order to address the concerns we may have as parents and teachers, we must separate the facts from any political agenda.   Trying to get factual information about the specifics of Common Core is difficult due to the political interference.  And it does not matter what state you are in, proponents and opponents of Common Core will vehemently defend their position, stating facts that completely contradict each other.

In an attempt to stay neutral, a list of concerns and responses will be provided for clarification on the top concerns about Common Core.  The resources for both sides of the argument will also be provided so you can make an informed decision about your position on the PA Common Core standards or the National Common Core standards.

First, we must clarify exactly what educators mean by “standards.”  Standards are nothing more then a set of goals for students to achieve by the end of their school year.  They are not a curriculum nor do they dictate how teachers must teach in the classroom.   Teachers still have the ability to choose strategies that work with their specific students and the choice of curriculum materials used is still given to each local school district.  Differentiating instruction remains a vital part of the progressive education program in PA.  That being said, some schools have chosen to use curriculum materials aligned with the National Common Core, some have chosen to use different materials.  Neither the government nor the standards dictate which materials must be used in the classroom.

What has changed in the previous PA Standards ( of 2010), to make them more aligned with the National Common Core?  Here are the adjustments made in Math and Language Arts:

Before PA adopted the National Common Core, they had a set of high-quality standards in place.  It did not take much adjustment to align with the National Common Core.  In Math, there will be more emphasis on the “Focus” of mathematical algorithms, “Coherence” of topics within the grade level and “Rigor.”

Focus, in the classroom looks like a student being able to think about explanations given for answers and deciding to agree or disagree with a logical argument.  Coherence addresses the need for skills to be mastered before moving on to the next skill.  Rigor is the hard work and practice required to make the concept fluent.

In Language Arts, a strong emphasis has been placed on more exposure and learning of non-fiction text.  *This does not mean the elimination of fiction – it does not even mean the scaling-back of fiction.  It does mean that non-fiction text will be more prevalent in the math, science and social studies curricula.  Another instructional goal is to use evidence from literary and non-fiction text to answer questions.  Finally, more attention will be given to using complex language.

There has been some concern about the age-appropriateness of the Common Core standards.   The educators who crafted the PA Common Core considered the several stages of intellectual development in children when analyzing the standards.  Personally, after speaking with several teachers who have already implemented the standards, the consensus is that the standards are age-appropriate.  Remember, the new PA Common Core standards are not much different then the previous standards!  If a child is struggling to meet the standards, there are intervention strategies put in place.  These are also not dictated by the PA or National Common Core standards.

Another cause for alarm in parents was the suggestion that testing information, along with personal information taken for our students will be sold to private companies or handed over to the Federal Government for some other purpose.  This is simply not true.  In the video Stop the Common Core, Jane Robbins, from The American Principals Project, makes the claim that your child’s information will not remain private.  First of all, Pennsylvania has chosen to not use the National Common Core test, opting instead to use the PSSA and Keystone tests that have been in place for years.  Teachers do not see the tests until they have been graded by humans from the Department of Education.  (The multiple-choice questions will be scanned and graded by a computer).  If and when Pennsylvania decides to adopt the National Common Core tests for Math and Language Arts, the tests results will be graded by an outside party and returned to the school district.  The student data will be used for measurement purposes but will remain private and not be sold to any entity.

If you watch the video on the Common Core State Standards website, it gives a simple overview of why the standards were initiated, who is responsible for crafting the standards and what the expectations are for US students. Learn About the Common Core in 3 Minutes.

There is also a Pennsylvania group dedicated to the elimination of the PA Common Core standards: Pennsylvanians Against Common Core

This group strategically tears down the standards by claiming there is no evidence that implementing these standards will work and the cost will be astronomical.  They basically say what we all know: that no one really knows how this will impact our education system.

The PA Department of Education is a great resource for clarification on PA Common Core practices.  PA Common Core Facts Website

They are super-helpful if you decide you want to call and speak to someone directly!

Some of the concerns for implementation of Common Core have started to subside because of the positive preliminary results and feedback from teachers.  (Although, this too has been questioned because there has not been enough time to analyze the full impact at each grade level).  In a few years, we will be able to accurately measure the results of our students’ hard work and decide if the standards need to be modified again.  Most likely, the standards will need to adjust to keep pace with our students’ abilities and every other country in the world will be jealous of our incredibly talented, army of intellectuals!  Take that, top-ranking European countries!!

Here at The Teacher’s Academy, all of our courses are aligned with both the National Common Core and the PA Common Core standards.  You must be “focused” to complete our “rigorous” projects because the skills are “coherent” with what you want to learn.  Actually, it is not that scary – we just want you to have fun & learn something that you can share with your students!

Check out our Teaching Math using Common Core and Teaching Science using Common Core courses.  In these courses you will dive into understanding how the common core standards are written and how to structure your lesson plans around those standards. You will have access to videos showing common core teaching strategies and much more! You have to write lesson plans anyway, right?  Why not receive professional development credits for your time and energy?  Finally, time well spent!  Enjoy, teachers!

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