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Quest Center responses to: Frequently Asked Questions about the Common Core State Standards

Click each question to see the answer.

If your question is not answered below, click here to submit your question or concern to our staff.

Q: Are the CCSS our new curriculum? What am I supposed to do with the curriculum materials I currently have? My school has always used [Saxon Math, Math Trailblazers, a reading basal series] – should I (can I) continue to use this?
Q: When will I be expected to teach to these standards?
Q: My network is requiring that all teachers begin full implementation of the CCSS this year, but I thought that as a fourth grade teacher I didn’t have to teach to the CCSS-m until next year. What should I do?
Q: I’ve heard that we are supposed to be designing Common Core-aligned units for the upcoming school year. When will we be doing this? How will we know what to do?
Q: How do I unpack a standard to make sure it's fully addressed?
Q: I know that my students are supposed to have a deep understanding of the concepts and skills addressed in the CCSS, but how will I have time to do that kind of teaching with each standard? Am I supposed to create a whole unit for each standard?
Q: What should my lesson plans look like? What are the CPS requirements this year with regards to the CCSS?
Q: How will the CCSS affect my evaluation for next year?
Q: I am a high school teacher who does not teach math or English. What do the CCSS mean for me? Will I be expected to add reading instruction to the teaching responsibilities I currently have?
Q: Isn’t the CCSS initiative just another new fad that will be gone in a few years? What’s wrong with the state standards we’ve been using?
Q: I keep hearing the word “rigor” in discussions about the CCSS. What exactly does “rigor” mean? How is it reflected in the standards?
Q: What are the “anchor” standards? How are they different from the content standards, and why were they included in the CCSS? How should I address the anchor standards in my instruction?
Q: What does “text complexity” mean in relation to the CCSS? I’ve heard that we should only be giving students very challenging, non-fiction texts to read.
Q: What should I do to meet the needs of my English language learners (ELLs)?
Q: What should I do to meet the needs of my special education students?
Q: What resources are available to help me learn more about the CCSS?
Q: What support is CPS providing to help me successfully transition to the CCSS? What support is the Chicago Teachers Union providing?
Q: Are the CCSS our new curriculum? What am I supposed to do with the curriculum materials I currently have? My school has always used [Saxon Math, Math Trailblazers, a reading basal series] – should I (can I) continue to use this?
A: The CCSS are not a curriculum in the sense that they do not prescribe the specific content to be taught or method of instruction. The CCSS define skills and concepts that students are expected to master by the end of each grade level. It is up to teachers and administrators to determine how, when, and in what order those skills will be taught. The CCSS can be thought of as “end points” or destinations to be reached by the end of each school year; the route by which students get there may differ from school to school or classroom to classroom. The CCSS also do not necessarily exclude other skills and concepts from being taught, directly or indirectly, at a given grade level. For example, although multiplication and division are not included in the second grade CCSS (and students are therefore not expected to master them by the end of second grade), teachers may choose to expose second graders to repeated addition or repeated subtraction in order to lay the foundation for later study of multiplication and division. Because the standards are organized with little repetition from one grade level to the next it will be important for teams of teachers to collaborate vertically (with teachers at the grades above and below) to create a plan for ensuring student mastery of each grade’s standards.
 
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Q: When will I be expected to teach to these standards?
A: Full implementation of the CCSS will not be complete until the 2014–2015 school year, when the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessment will be given for the first time. This test will replace the ISAT and PSAE. Until then, the ISAT/PSAE will continue to be given annually, and teachers will gradually transition from the Illinois State Standards to the CCSS over the next two school years. All CPS teachers of English language arts (ELA)—including self-contained elementary teachers—will be expected to begin teaching to the ELA CCSS during the 2012–2013 school year using the CPS Literacy Framework as a basis for planning instruction. Math teachers will be following the CPS Math Bridge Plan; K–5 teachers are encouraged to incorporate the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice into their instruction during the 2012–2013 school year but are not yet required to implement the Common Core math standards (CCSS-m), while 6–12 math teachers will be partially implementing the CCSS-m this year.

All teachers should have received hard copies of the complete text of the Common Core State Standards, as well as hard copies of the CPS Literacy and Mathematics Content Frameworks. To access electronic versions of the CPS Content Frameworks, click here.

For examples of the types of items that will be included in the PARCC assessment, click here.

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Q: My network is requiring that all teachers begin full implementation of the CCSS this year, but I thought that as a fourth grade teacher I didn’t have to teach to the CCSS-m until next year. What should I do?
A: Each network within CPS has “bounded autonomy” to make its own decisions about how the transition to the CCSS will proceed. Teachers must follow their principals’ directives with regards to instruction in order to avoid being insubordinate. However, the district will not be providing support for any CCSS-related initiatives that go beyond what is covered in their Math and Literacy Content Frameworks; if a network sets additional requirements for teachers, such as asking primary teachers to align their instruction to the CCSS-m this school year, it will be up to the network to provide teacher support for that initiative.
 
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Q: I’ve heard that we are supposed to be designing Common Core-aligned units for the upcoming school year. When will we be doing this? How will we know what to do?
A: The expectation is that all CPS teachers of language arts—including self-contained elementary teachers—will have one CCSS-driven unit ready to teach on the first day of school. This can be a unit designed by a teacher or team of teachers, adapted from a source such as www.commoncore.org, or taken from the examples provided in the CPS Literacy Content Framework. It is up to each school to determine how and when these units will be planned; a portion of the professional development time at the beginning of the school year is supposed to be devoted to ensuring that these units are in place for the start of the year. One of the best things you can do now to start this process would be to begin “unpacking” the standards. See the next question for more information.
 
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Q: How do I unpack a standard to make sure it's fully addressed?
A: The CCSS are more detailed and specific than the Illinois State Standards and should be "unpacked" so the teacher can set clear objectives for his or her students. “Unpacking” is a process of breaking down all of the skills and concepts embedded in a given standard. To do this, take one content standard at one grade level and begin to look at the verbs within the standard. Ask yourself, what do students need to know to be able to do this? Think also about what each standard does NOT say the students need to do. From there, think about what you already do and use in your instruction that may address the standard, and what you will need to add or change in order to address the standard effectively. The standards are very detailed, but it is essential that you have a strong understanding of the expectations of each one. These standards are not “the same package with different wrapping.” There are major differences between the CCSS and the standards we were using before, and these differences must be understood before we can successfully implement the CCSS. Much of what we already do as teachers may meet the expectations of the CCSS, but there are also significant instructional shifts we must keep in mind when planning our teaching. There are 6 instructional shifts for ELA and 6 for math. The document linked here provides detailed descriptions of these shifts:
 
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Q: I know that my students are supposed to have a deep understanding of the concepts and skills addressed in the CCSS, but how will I have time to do that kind of teaching with each standard? Am I supposed to create a whole unit for each standard?
A: To develop an entire unit based on one standard is unrealistic. If you take an inter- or intra- disciplinary approach when creating units of instruction, then you will cover a span of standards across your curriculum. Taking this approach allows you to plan rigorous lessons within the units and give your students opportunities to delve more deeply into those concepts and skills as they practice them in different contexts and link them schematically.
 
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Q: What should my lesson plans look like? What are the CPS requirements this year with regards to the CCSS?
A: You should consult with your administration regarding the format of your lesson plans, as this will differ from school to school. But the anchor standard you are addressing should be identified as well as the content standard(s) you choose to address. Including Blooms Taxonomy verbs in your objectives will provide clarity regarding the type of work students will do to show their competency with the skills you are teaching. CPS is not currently mandating any particular lesson plan format system-wide.
 
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Q: How will the CCSS affect my evaluation for next year?
A: The specifics of teacher evaluation for next year are still being negotiated. All teachers will be evaluated with the CPS Framework for Teaching, a rubric adapted from the work of Charlotte Danielson, beginning next year; this framework includes language that references the CCSS. As described above, all teachers will be expected to use the Math and Literacy Content Frameworks as the basis for their instructional planning beginning next year.
 
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Q: I am a high school teacher who does not teach math or English. What do the CCSS mean for me? Will I be expected to add reading instruction to the teaching responsibilities I currently have?
A: The CCSS for grades 6-12 include standards for literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Each classroom teacher is responsible for teaching literacy skills, but this does not mean that you must find time for separate reading instruction during your class periods. Refer to the Common Core State Standards Initiative text that you should have received at your school, and review the discipline-specific reading and writing standards. These standards provide additional focus for the reading and writing your students are already doing within your discipline. For example, if you are a science teacher, your students likely write lab reports as part of your science curriculum. The CCSS require that when you teach students this skill you focus not only on science content, but also on considerations such as teaching students to tailor their writing to the specific purpose and audience for their reports. The CCSS heavily emphasize disciplinary literacy, which is defined as the confluence of content knowledge, experiences, and skills merged with the ability to read, write, listen, speak, think critically and perform in a way that is meaningful within the context of a given field. With the transition to the CCSS, you will be expected to be deliberate in teaching your students how reading and writing are used to solve problems and do work within your particular discipline.
 
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Q: Isn’t the CCSS initiative just another new fad that will be gone in a few years? What’s wrong with the state standards we’ve been using?
A: According to research, the standards that we currently use are not preparing our students for college and career readiness. According to an article in Educational Leadership (April 2012), “educators and policy makers have realized that many state standards were set too low and that these standards varied widely from state to state. A 2008 study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania compared state content standards in mathematics and found very little commonality among the states.” These differences cause students to come into colleges and careers with widely varying levels of proficiency. Many are under-prepared for their path after high school. The CCSS were written differently from the current state standards. According to the same article mentioned above, “CCSS leaders established clear criteria for the standards; one of the most important was that the standards reflect research on college and career readiness.” The authors of the standards first determined what students would need to be able to do in order to successfully transition to college and careers after high school, and then worked backwards from there to determine what students should master at each grade level. The standards were also informed by research on how the countries with the strongest education systems prepare their students for success after high school. For more information, visit the CCSS website:

Considering the scope of the CCSS project, it is unlikely that these standards will be abandoned any time in the near future. As educators, our best approach is to learn about the CCSS and look for opportunities to use them as a vehicle to evolve our practice for the benefit of our students.

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Q: I keep hearing the word “rigor” in discussions about the CCSS. What exactly does “rigor” mean? How is it reflected in the standards?
A: There are many definitions for academic rigor. It can be helpful to think about rigor in terms of what it is not: rigor does not mean doing the same tasks, but with less teacher support; it does not mean doing the same tasks, but more of them; and it is not something to be reserved only for those students who have “mastered the basics.” See this blog postfor more on myths/misconceptions about rigor:

One of the reasons the CCSS were developed was to address the fact that much of our nation was following standards that were “a mile wide and an inch deep.” Teachers and students were being asked to “cover” a great deal of material at each grade level, but were often only able to scratch the surface of those skills and concepts due to time constraints and other factors. This necessitated a great deal of review at each subsequent grade level. One of the goals for the CCSS is that students spend more time processing and mastering content at each grade level so that it is learned deeply and does not need to be re-taught, but can instead be built upon with increasing complexity. One expert on the CCSS summed it up this way: “It used to be that once we’d taught students to count to ten, we went straight on to teaching them to count to 20. Instead, we should be teaching them ALL the math that they can do that involves counting to ten.” The CCSS call for students to have opportunities to think deeply about and meaningfully explore concepts, and increase their understanding of how ideas are processed and problems are solved within each discipline. The Oregon Small Schools Initiative’s web page includes a very useful description of academic rigor, describing it as instruction in which “…students actively explore, research, and solve complex problems to develop a deep understanding of core academic concepts that reflect college readiness standards.”

For the complete description, see the organization’s web page.

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Q: What are the “anchor” standards? How are they different from the content standards, and why were they included in the CCSS? How should I address the anchor standards in my instruction?
A: The anchor standards indicate the over-arching knowledge and skills students need by the time they graduate high school. These standards were, in fact, developed first. The CCSS-m include one set of anchor standards (Standards for Mathematical Practice). The anchor standards for English language arts are separated into two grade bands: K–5 and 6–12. The content standards are grade-by-grade standards in each discipline. Whereas the anchor standards are more focused on the nature or essence of each discipline (for example, “attend to precision” is a habit of mind central to the discipline of math, and is therefore a math anchor standard), the content standards focus on specific, grade-appropriate skills organized in a “staircase of complexity” by which each grade level’s standards build on what was mastered in the grade before. The “College and Career Readiness Standards” and the “Anchor Standards” are one and the same; the terms are used interchangeably. These standards are embedded within the CCSS content standards, and should be integrated throughout your instruction.
 
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Q: What does “text complexity” mean in relation to the CCSS? I’ve heard that we should only be giving students very challenging, non-fiction texts to read.
A: The CCSS initiative describes text complexity in terms of three factors: quantitative measures, such as Flesch-Kincaid (readability) levels; qualitative evaluation, such as levels of meaning, complexity of themes, and language conventionality; and “reader and task” considerations, such as the relevance of a particular text to the students’ prior knowledge and experiences as well as to the task at hand. All three factors should be considered equally when selecting text for students to read. The CCSS contain specific guidelines for how much fiction vs. non-fiction text students should be reading at particular grade levels, which are described in the CPS Literacy Content Framework; while teachers are expected to follow these guidelines, it is still up to teachers to determine exactly what their students will read, taking all three factors into consideration when choosing specific texts.
 
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Q: What should I do to meet the needs of my English language learners (ELLs)?
A: The CCSS do not directly address English Language Learners. Please see this document from the authors of the standardsfor more information on the CCSS and ELLs.

This web site is a nationally-recognized ELL resource sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). This link will take you to a series of journal entries created by teachers of ELLs as they designed instruction using the CCSS. According to the website, “These journals reflect the teachers' thoughts about implementing the new standards with ELLs, as well as the role of ELL teachers in planning for the new standards.”

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Q: What should I do to meet the needs of my special education students?
A: The standards were written with the assumption that with appropriate accommodations all students, including those with exceptional needs, can achieve them. You should continue to differentiate your instruction, following all IEP requirements, goals, and modifications, and implement “best practices” in your curriculum to meet the needs of all your learners.
 
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Q: What resources are available to help me learn more about the CCSS?
A:

Below is a list of websites that can provide useful, reliable information about the Common Core State Standards:

The official CCSS page of CPS: Provides information and resources related to the transition to CCSS within our district.

The official site of the Common Core State Standards Initiative: Contains a multitude of CCSS resources created and compiled by the New York State Education Department. Some of these resources are also being used by departments within CPS in order to avoid duplicating the efforts of others; for example, the Tri-State Rubric, a tool for evaluating how well a lesson or unit represents the expectations outlined in the CCSS, is an already-vetted resource available on this site and currently in use by CPS.

The website of the Delaware Department of Education: Here you can select a subject area and locate materials that will help you get acquainted with the CCSS and implement them successfully.

Achieve the Core: A nonprofit organization founded by a group of authors of the CCSS. It has a great deal of helpful information along with resources for implementing the standards.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD): is a nonprofit organization that supports the development of teachers and administrators. It is an endorsing partner to the CCSS project. The link above is to the ASCD’s web page filled with CCSS-related resources and links. These include online Professional Development offerings, information about implementation, and educational articles about the standards.

www.commoncore.org: Contains literacy “curriculum maps” across grade levels and subject areas, driven by the CCSS, developed by teachers, and funded by the Gates Foundation.

ISBE Common Core: The website for the Illinois State Board of Education provides information on CCSS implementation in Illinois.

PARCC Online: The official website for the consortium that is developing the new Common Core-driven yearly assessment that Illinois students will take beginning in 2014-2015.

Teaching Channel: This site contains numerous videos on various aspects of CCSS implementation at all levels of education and across content areas, including videos of teachers using the CCSS in their classrooms. Users who create an account can take time-stamped notes on the videos while watching them, create private workspaces, save lesson plans, and take advantage of other services to help organize their use of the resources on the web site and network with teachers across the country.

National PTA: This site contains CCSS-related information for parents from the National PTA.

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Q: What support is CPS providing to help me successfully transition to the CCSS? What support is the Chicago Teachers Union providing?
A: Many CPS networks have offered and will continue to offer CCSS-related professional development. CPS has also held a series of summer Teacher Leader Institutes, and will be asking attendees to bring the information from these workshops back to their schools.

On August 1, the CTU Quest Center and CPS co-sponsored a conference on the CCSS, with multiple sessions from which teachers could choose and opportunities for teachers to network with each other and hear from a wide range of local and national experts on the Common Core. Expanded versions of some of the most popular sessions will be offered through the Quest Center in a monthly PD series beginning October 15. Please see ctunet.com/ccss for more information and a registration link.

This past year, the CTU Quest Center provided the opportunity for teams of teachers ranging from grades K-12 to come together to create what will become exemplar units of instruction (K-2 interdisciplinary, 3-5 interdisciplinary, K-3 math, high school career and technical education, high school ELA, and high school math) aligned to the CCSS. This project was supported by a $400,000 grant from the American Federation of Teachers Innovation Fund. These teams first spent time “unpacking” the standards to understand how to address them in their lessons, and followed a backwards mapping process in developing their units. The teams received feedback from experts on the CCSS, and then diligently worked to modify their units to ensure they were rigorous, developmentally appropriate, and true to the standards. The units will be field tested this school year and will then be revised again before being made available to teachers across the district. These units will provide CPS teachers with models for CCSS-driven instruction. If you would like more information on these units, please email Michael Moriarty.

The Quest Center will also be offering a course on the CCSS in the fall of 2012. For more information on CTU Quest Center course offerings, click here.

Chicago Teachers Union