Common Core – Originally Posted March 27, 2014

I’ve been wondering about the new “Common Core” standards for some time.


 It sounds good.


We will have the same goals for students.


We will be thinking about what students need to know for their futures.




The reality is horrifying.


It’s not just incomprehensible math.  A lot of the “new math” is really confusing for people who never really understood what worked and just memorized the algorithm.




Here is where my biggest problem shows up.  I wanted to know who wrote the Common Core.  Here is the answer I found on the official Common Core website:




“What evidence and criteria were used to develop the standards?


The standards made careful use of a large and growing body of evidence, including:


    • Scholarly research


    • 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


The following criteria guided the development of the standards:


    • Alignment with expectations for college and career success


    • Clarity


    • 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”






Where is the part about consulting with experts on child development to see what children are generally capable of doing at what ages?




“Children in the concrete operational stage are typically ages 7 to 11.  They gain the abilities of conservation (number, area, volume, orientation) and reversibility.  Their thinking is more organized and rational.  They can solve problems in a logical fashion, but are typically not able to think abstractly or hypothetically.


By around seven years the majority of children can conserve liquid (see video below), because they understand that when water is poured into a different shaped glass, the quantity of liquid remains the same, even though its appearance has changed.  Five-year-old children would think that there was a different amount because the appearance has changed.”


So, with a quick internet search (avoiding Wikipedia), I can tell you that many children between the ages of 7-11 will struggle with thinking abstractly or hypothetically.


So let’s look at some of the expectation for the Common Core:


Take a moment to log in to the “Smarter Balanced” practice test.  It’s easy to find.  Search Smarter Balanced Practice Test.  I recommend doing the 3rd grade test.  Remember that these children are 8 and 9 years old.


I will summarize one question for you, as you cannot cut and paste from the test itself.


The students are given a bar graph with a scale of 4 showing lemonade stand sales for four weeks.


Question one asks them to write how many cups of lemonade sold each week.  (They need to pay attention to the key, but probably OK for most 3rd graders)


Question two asks for them to total the 4 weeks of sales and enter the answer.  They need to do this on scratch paper in the computer lab… many 3rd graders will not do it on scratch paper.  They will try to add in their heads and enter a guess.


Question three is where it gets complicated.  The question states that she also sold lemonade in August, and they need to use the chart for July to find the totals for August with the following information:


Week One – 22 fewer


Week Two – 18 more


Week Three – 26 more


Week Four – 25 fewer


Keep in mind that they need to scroll up to find their totals for the first month, or use the bar graph again.


Question four asks them to use their data from the August chart they just made to make a pictograph.  First they must choose a key (most kids will ignore this step).  They can choose a cup = 4 cups, a cup = 10 cups, or a cup = 30 cups.  


This is not the worst question, just an example.  Think about how much reading is involved here. There is no support of English Language Learners.  Kids with an IEP for reading can have someone read aloud, but not define or explain any vocabulary.


Most third graders are learning to read carefully.  They are not yet masters of reading directions, especially multi-step directions.  They are easily overwhelmed by tons of data and steps.


Why are we putting up with this?  How is this OK?


Third graders should be:


Working with numbers!


Developing fact fluency.


Developing a solid number sense and comprehension of place value.


Asking meaningful mathematical questions, and being able to use a wide variety of concrete materials to figure out the answers.


I’m sad to say that the language arts piece is just as bad.


Think about what our schools are going to look like if we let this be the expectation.


Kids will no longer know how to use scissors.  The motor development is already of concern, but it will get worse.


Teachers will feel forced to spend time teaching kids strategies for solving these kinds of test questions, rather than teaching them to think, to problem solve, to think about numbers, reading, writing, art…


2nd grade will feel like they need to provide the building blocks for these skills.


1st grade will also be pressured to get the kids farther, faster.


Kindergarten… so much for play, socialization, learning to be a student.


And all for what?  Scores will improve because teachers will help students learn tricks to show improvement on these tests.


Students will leave elementary school with fewer social skills, problem solving skills, creative skills, motor skills, and abilities to be a good student.  Students will leave high school with no idea how to do anything other than to prep for a test.  But the scores will look good!  Lawmakers will be able to tell themselves that they are getting those pesky teachers to do a better job.


I don’t want my kid to go through this system. I have great respect for so many teachers who are trying to be creative, to respect the learning paths of their students, but I don’t want to put my kid in a class of 24 kids and one teacher when he is five. I don’t want him to feel like he’s dumb if he isn’t ready to read until he’s seven.  I don’t want his natural desire to learn, his wonder for the world, to be squashed because he needs to learn to fit the mold, to pass the test.


Parents (myself included) need to start speaking out.  We have to find some ways to get this trend to shift so that real learning is valued, and testing is reserved for the final years of high school where students benefit from learning how to take tests.  More earlier is NOT the answer!  More appropriate, at the right time, with passion and excitement IS the answer.



Edited to add after conversation with friends- High expectations and complex skills are not a problem.  Being required to show understanding independently and in abstract ways is the area where I take issue 🙂


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