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How Will the Common Core State Standards Impact Student Learning?

by: Ben Alexander

The Common Core State Standards have been in the news a great deal lately. To many, the shift to a new framework represents a necessary shift in educational philosophy for the United States. To others, this is yet another area where government should not interfere. The reality of the situation will likely not live up to either party's expectations. However, the Common Core State Standards will certainly change the layout and the content of the typical student's school day.

Scope and Sequence Changes
One significant impact that parents will notice right away is that typical content will be introduced with different timings than before. The most obvious instance of this is in the area of mathematics. Traditional algorithms for solving addition, subtraction, multiplication and division problems will no longer be the first instruction that children receive when these topics are introduced. Instead, a great deal of time will be spent building up a student's comprehension of the process before the technique is discussed. For many people, this conjures up images of the "new math" that was introduced into our schools a while ago. While that movement was a failure, the idea behind understanding how a process works before learning the process is a sound one. Statistics show that our children are some of the least math literate in the industrialized world. Hopefully, this movement towards a broader conceptual understanding of mathematics will help reverse that trend.

Instructional and Pedagogical Changes
Along with the necessary changes to instructional pacing, the day-to-day business of teaching children will change as well. Students are required under the Common Core State Standards to develop effective academic arguments. In order to develop these skills, children will have to practice. This demand requires that teachers rethink their approach to lesson design, which often incorporates extended periods of independent practice. Since the new workplace environment is collaborative and information sharing is so embedded in our society, children must develop these skills. The Common Core State Standards hope to facilitate this movement towards an information economy by supplying children with the requisite skills and experiences to succeed in college and beyond. Developing and defending arguments based on evidence from sources and text is a key component of that process.

Assessment Changes
Since so many different skills are integrated with instructional outcomes under the Common Core, assessment protocols will have to adapt to these changing demands. The common practice of using homework grades as a foundation for course assessment will likely be abandoned almost everywhere. Instead, using assessments to understand the current level of a student's mastery and as a tool to plan further educational experiences is key. Also, assessments at the end of a course will likely closely mirror the outcomes described in the Common Core State Standards, instead of the teacher's discretionary topics. Parents will also notice a larger emphasis on the written word. In college and beyond, online collaboration requires students to communicate in written language effectively and efficiently. To build toward this outcome, students will undoubtedly practice demonstrating their understanding of content in written formats. Further instruction on how to effectively write for this purpose will hopefully accompany this outcome.

Is the Shift a Positive Thing?
While these changes appear daunting, and they are certainly a departure from the educational experiences of the past, the Common Core State Standards should go a long way toward increasing our students' competitiveness in the global community. By understanding the underlying thinking behind these changes, parents and students can easily see how these skills can contribute to more effective scholars and employees in the future.