Category Archives: Common Core Standards

Important academic words for K-2 students to learn

Discouraged child thinks there are too many words in a book she is readingLittle children need to learn so many words, but 15 are especially important for answering questions in school and on tests.  For example, if students think “compare” means to show how two things are different, they will answer a test question incorrectly.  Knowing the meaning of direction words is vital.


According to Marilee Sprenger*, who analyzed the Common Core standards and other sources to develop this list, the words for kindergarteners, first graders and second graders are

  • Compare
  • Contrast
  • Describe
  • Distinguish
  • Identify
  • Retell
  • Demonstrate
  • Determine
  • Draw
  • Explain
  • Locate
  • Suggest
  • Support
  • Comprehend, and
  • Develop

These words are not everyday words for little children.  Children need to learn these words’ meanings from teachers and parents.  How?

First the adult says the word properly and explains what it means, using it in the context of something the children already know.  Next the children repeat the explanation, paraphrasing the adult’s explanation and using an example of their own.  Children then might draw a picture of the word’s meaning to show that they understand.  The adult should use the word many times and encourage students to write down the word and its meaning.  The adult should continue to use the word in situations where students must act to show if they understand the word.  Finally, occasional word games, like vocabulary bees and word BINGO games, reinforce the word and its meaning.**

Sometimes we suppose students know words because they have heard them over and over.  But that does not mean they know them.  I worked with a seventh grader who thought “compare” means “contrast.”  It’s important for us to take the time to teach these words so when children encounter them as directions for homework, quizzes or tests, they can perform correctly.

*Teaching the Critical Vocabulary of the Common Core; 55 words that make or break student understanding,  by Sprenger, 2013

**Building Academic Vocabulary:  Teacher’s Manual by Marzano and Pickering, 2005

Printing, cursive writing and keystroking

Is there a best sequence in which to learn printing, cursive writing and key stroking?  Yes, according to research.

clip of child holding pencil upside down

  • First children should learn to print letters, using either a pen or pencil, from toddler years through second grade.
  • Then, during third and fourth grade, children should learn and switch to cursive handwriting.
  • Beginning in fifth grade, children should learn to keystroke.

This sequence is connected to how the brain of a child develops.

Holding a pencil, forming letters correctly, printing neatly on a horizontal line and using correct spacing to form words is a complex skill requiring coordination of many processes.  By four or five years old, most children are capable of this.

Around fourth grade, using cursive writing seems to help children with spelling and composing.  The reason is not clear, but researchers speculate that joining letters together in cursive writing helps children to form words from individual letters.

When a child learns to type properly on a keyboard, the fingers from both hands are used, unlike when handwriting.  Using both hands might activate connective tissue in the brain which joins different parts of the brain together to perform a task.

(Common Core Standards recommend that children learn to print in first and second grades, but learning to write in cursive is not recommended.  As a result, cursive writing is no longer taught in many schools.  The Common Core Standards recommend learning to use a keyboard.)

One way to increase vocabulary: learn Latin roots

Does your child show a logical way of thinking?  Does your son delight in finding patterns?  Does your daughter love puzzles?

If so, your child might like to learn English vocabulary by studying Latin and Greek roots.

uni- as root word

More than 60 percent of English words can be traced back to Latin or Greek words, sometimes with a bypass through France.  Most of those Latin or Greek roots developed into not one or two English words, but eight or ten or more.

If a child can memorize a Latin root, he can find that root pattern in many related English words.  Thinking logically, he can assume that those other words are related in meaning to the original Latin root.

The child’s vocabulary can grow exponentially.  A student who studies vocabulary the traditional way, learning ten new unrelated words a week, can possibly learn 380 new words in a school year.  But a child who studies one Latin root a week might learn thousands of new words in a school year.

The Common Core State Standards recommend that children be introduced to Latin prefixes, suffixes and roots in third grade. But even kindergarteners can learn a Latin root a week and can infer the meaning of words made from that root.

For example, suppose a little kid learns that “mater” is the Latin word for mother.  A teacher or parent could introduce the words maternity, maternal, matriarch, matrimony, matron, and alma mater.  Even if the child can’t read, she can hear “mater” in those words and can assume they have something to do with a mother.

One easy way is to begin with the Latin and Greek roots for numbers.  Or try a word which is part of children’s lives, such bicycle.  Cycle, circle, circular, cyclical, encircle—it’s not hard to remember that they all have something to do with a circle.   Encourage children to propose their own words.  How about circus, a child might ask.  Yes, circus comes from circle.  Can you guess why?  Maybe because of the rings?  Maybe.

Having a large vocabulary is associated with strong reading comprehension.  Using Latin roots is one way to gain a large vocabulary.

My third grader spells haphazardly, using correct spelling in one sentence and incorrect spelling of the same word in the next sentence. How can I make her care?

Some kids, like adults, are detail people, proud when things are “just so.”

Other kids, like your daughter, are not concerned with details.  Does she get distracted easily?  This could be part of the problem.  Is she trying to establish a different role in the family from an older, more obedient child?  Is her personality laid-back and easy-going?  Causes for her lack of rigor could be many.

Child writing with right hand.

She might have gotten away with this carelessness in first and second grade, but now that she is in third grade, she will be taking the Common Core tests.  For the first time, lack of attention to detail might bring down her grades.  Does she know this?

The best motivation is internal, but for some children, an external goal focuses them.  What might motivate her to be more consistent with her spelling?  Money?  A trip to the book store?  A lunch out with Mom and Dad?

Considering your daughter’s age, a “contest” for one week might be a way to begin.  If she brings home worksheets every night and there are no spelling errors, she might earn a small but meaningful reward.  If she can keep it up for another week, then she might earn a second reward.  If she can get a certain grade on her end-of-year test, then she might earn another reward.

Or you might give her a 15-minute writing assignment at home Monday through Friday.  On Saturday she could receive her writings back and edit them, looking for spelling errors.  She could circle any word she thinks might be misspelled and look them up in a children’s dictionary or online.   This would be her chance to make changes before you evaluate her spelling.

Other ways she might find the correct spelling of questionable words are writing the word several ways and figuring out which one “looks right.” Or she might use a spell checker on the computer.  I have a spelling dictionary which I let children use to look up frequently misspelled words.

If she is writing at home, you might give her a short list of words she is likely to want to use.  If she is writing about fossils, for example, you could write “fossil,” “sedimentary,” “erosion,” and “layers.”  This encourages her to use such words and to follow standard spelling.  If she is using more advanced vocabulary, words like “canyon,” “marine” and “stratification,” and she spells those words phonetically, praise her for trying and tell her the proper spelling.

If you notice your daughter is repeatedly misspelling a particular word, you might develop a silly story which helps the child remember the correct spelling.  “An elephANT is beigger than an ant.  Or if she is misspelling a “family” of words, you might come up with a way for her to remember the spelling.

The more game-like you can make learning, the more likely your child is to participate.  And games have winners.  Offer her the prize she has earned, and let her know how proud you are.  Your daughter is still at the age where pleasing her parents is so important.  Make the most of it.

Students again opting out of Common Core testing in New York

Common Core testing began in New York State on Tuesday, April 5.  Last year New York had the highest “opt-out” rate in the country—20%, or a quarter of a million students in grades 3 to 8.  This year may see that rate increase despite shorter tests and unlimited time to take the tests.



  • 51.5% of students—87,899 students—in Long Island public schools refused to take the test by late last Thursday, with 106 out of 124 school districts reporting, according to reports in Newsday, Long Island’s daily newspaper.
  • 87% of students in Allendale Elementary School near Buffalo, opted out.  86% of students in the Comsewogue schools on Long Island opted out. 89 % of Dolgeville students in the Mohawk Valley opted out.  This is according to Carol Burris, executive director of the Network for Public Education and a former award-winning high school principal who is fighting Common Core.
  • While the 2015 opt-out movement was largely white, in 2016 the number of black students opting out has increased, according to Burris.
  • About 20% of eligible students—about 240,000 students—in New York skipped at least one of the tests in 2015, according to the New York State Education Department.
  • The opt-out numbers are higher for elementary and middle school students than for high school students. For older students, the scores on these tests are part of the evaluation used by college admissions offices, so there is more reason to take the tests.

For results of a Newsday survey of parents opting out of the math exam on Long Island last week, go to

What kind of books do you read to your kids?

When my kids were little, I selected their reading materials from the picture book section of my library and book store.  In retrospect, I was limiting my children’s literature to fairy tales, Dr. Seuss and fiction of all kinds.

Yet children need exposure to nonfiction as well:  how to books, how things work books, information about animals and the natural world we live in, biographies, history, books with maps and tables, books about dinosaurs, even current events news.

Take a quick survey of the books you have read to your preschooler in the past week.  Were any of them nonfiction?

Expand your child’s horizons starting today.  Find the nonfiction section of the children’s section of your library and see what’s there that might interest your child.

  • Does he like dinosaurs? Lots of books explore the lives of these amazing creatures.  Or does he have a pet?  Books on dogs, cats, birds and almost every other animal abound.
  • Is your daughter into fashion? Find books about how clothes have changed over the centuries.  Find a biography of Coco Channel.  Look for a magazine with Downton Abbey or Academy Award dresses.
  • Is your child into building? You can find books and magazines on how to build a soap box, a tree house or a house of cards.  Or you can learn how a spider builds a web, how a bird builds a nest or how a beaver dams a stream to build a house with an underwater doorway.
  • Do you travel with your child? Magazines highlight fascinating places around the world.  Even if your child can’t read, together you can compare your home with the ones pictured.  Or together you can wonder what it would be like to take a gondola ride or to walk on the Great Wall of China.  Maybe you could plan a vacation.
  • Did Grandpa serve in the Army? Let Grandpa read to your child about the locations where he served or about the military uniforms he wore.  Did Grandpa fly a jet?  Find books about military aircraft.
  • Cooking books are great how-to books. With your child, find a picture of something you would like to eat and cook it together.
  • How about the handbook for your car? Or you phone?  Your child and you can look over the pictures and identify parts and what they do, picking up vocabulary.
  • Look for books with maps, charts, tables, pictographs, photos and other non-textual ways of presenting information.  Help your child to understand what those graphics mean.

Reading nonfiction is harder than reading fiction, yet students must be adept at both kinds of literature under the Common Core State Standards.  Start now preparing your child for his future by exploring nonfiction together.

States’ standards for student achievement have risen, says journal

45 states have raised their English and math standards since 2011, a result of adopting Common Core State Standards, according to Education Next, a journal reporting on K-12 education.



Education Next says this change is a significant improvement from the low standards set by most states following the implementation of the 2001 No Child Left Behind law.

Education Next has graded states on the rigor of their statewide tests for fourth and eighth graders in English and math for several years. While six states received an “A” grade in 2005, that number jumped to 24 in 2015. And while in 2005 17 states received a “D” or “F” grade, in 2015 only one state (Texas) received a “D” grade and none received an “F.”

Those 24 states which received an “A” grade include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, and Vermont.

Two states, Wisconsin and Florida, are not included in the data because they had not reported test results by the middle of January when the data was compiled.

Education Next published a table showing the rigor of state testing from 2003 to 2015. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia are included in the table, available at

However, the change in standards has not led to greater achievement by students. In most states, about one-third of students taking their first Common Core Standards-aligned tests in the spring of 2015 passed, and about 2/3 failed.

Critics of the improved state standards, who wrote to the journal, question whether present-day curricula supports the new state standards; whether the new standards are reasonable; whether teacher-made tests are aligned with the new standards; whether the previous statewide tests used as comparisons are aligned with what is tested on the new tests; and whether teachers have been properly trained to prepare students for these new tests.

Ohio’s almost C grade = Illinois’ F grade on Common Core English tests

Between 33 to 38 percent of third through eighth graders in Illinois “met expectations” or “exceeded expectations” on the language arts part of the 2015 Common Core test. So in Illinois about one-third passed.

Across the border in Ohio, students who took the exact same test.  About 40 percent of them scored at the same levels as in Illinois. However, Ohio is saying that an acceptable score is lower than in Illinois. Using Ohio’s terminology, 60 or more percent of students scored at “proficient” levels. So in Ohio about two-thirds passed.

chart showing state results on PARCC LA tests taken in 2015


What gives? In Ohio if a student is approaching a C score on the test, he passes. In Illinois, if he has the same score, he fails.

A failing score means a student is not ready for the next grade, and if he continues at the same rate, he will not be prepared to enter college or a career.

The test maker, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), did not identify what score it considers to be a minimally passing score. It left that to the states. However, it did divide test scores into five broad categories:

• Level 1, Did not yet meet expectations (a minimum score of 650);
• Level 2: Partially met expectations (a minimum score of 700);
• Level 3: Approached expectations (a minimum score of 725);
• Level 4: Met expectations (a minimum score of 750); and
• Level 5: Exceeded expectations (a minimum score of 810).
• A perfect score is 850.

Illinois defines a passing score as either a Level 4 or Level 5; Ohio defines passing as a Level 3 (although Ohio uses different terminology, calling a Level 3 score “proficient.”)

My dictionary defines “proficient” as having an advanced degree of competence; an expert. Yet students scoring “proficient”in Ohio do not know what is expected in their grade level.  Semantics?

Before the test scores were announced, Ohio dropped out of future PARCC testing.

Other states which used the PARCC tests have announced results using the PARCC categories. Their results, as hyperlinked from a PARCC website, follow. Not all states reveal complete data to make a one-on-one comparison. Some states had large numbers of students not take the tests. Direct comparisons are difficult to make considering all the variables. All scores shown below are for language arts only.

  • Arkansas’ results show a range of 54 to 66 percent of students scoring at a Level 3, 4 or 5; and a range of 29 to 35 percent of students scoring at a Level 4 or 5 in grades 3 to 8.
  • Colorado’s results show 37 to 41 percent of students in grades 3 to high school met or exceeded” expectations. Definitions of “met or exceeded” were not provided.
  • Louisiana’s results show a range of 64 to 74 percent of students scoring at a level 3, 4 or 5; and 33 to 40 percent scoring at a Level 4 or 5.
  • Maryland’s results for 11th graders show 39.7 percent scoring at a Level 4 or 5.
  • Massachusetts’ results show 60 percent of students in grades 3 to 8 scoring at Level 4 or 5; and 83% scoring at a Level 3 or better.
  • Mississippi’s results show 49.4 percent of high school students scoring at a Level 4 or 5; and 72.7 percent scoring at a Level 3 or better.
  • New Jersey’s results of grade 3 through high school students show 40 to 52 percent scoring at a Level 4 or 5 while another 20 to 28 scored at a Level 3.
  • New Mexico does not list statewide results as a whole. But for grade 3, 24.9 percent scored at a Level 4 or 5; and another 23.6 scored at a Level 3.
  • Rhode Island’s results of grades 3 through high school show 31.4 to 38.3 of students scoring at Levels 4 and 5; and another 19.3 to 30.5 scoring at Level 3.
  • Washington, D.C.’s results show 25 percent of high school students scored at Level 4 or 5; and 37 percent scored at level 3, 4 or 5.

What does it all mean? If your child took a PARCC test, check the numerical score and ignore the terminology. If the score is 750 or better, relax.  If it’s lower, recognize that your child’s education is not up to snuff, according to the new Common Core State Standards. Then decide what you are going to do about it.


“No Child Left Behind” overturned by Senate; Obama expected to sign

The US Senate voted on December 9 to overturn “No Child Left Behind” and to replace the 2003 law with  a law which puts more control of education in the hands of the states and local school districts.  The House already passed the same bill.



President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law before the year ends.

“No Child Left Behind” gave the federal government more power over education at the expense of the states.  Many people view that law as mandating more testing and as leading to the Common Core curriculum, both opposed by more and more parents.

Under the new law, states would set their own standards and decide how much testing is necessary.  States would still need to test students in math and English/language arts, to publish those results, and to help failing students and schools.

“No Child Left Behind” law overturned by House; Senate expected to follow

sstudent filling in dots for testThe 2002 law that increased the US government’s role in education and mandated testing has been scrapped by the House of Representatives. If its replacement passes the Senate, as expected, “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) will be replaced by a law which greatly reduces the federal government’s part in education and reduces the amount of tests US kids take. President Obama has indicated he would sign such an act.

This expected change in law does nothing to interfere with the Common Core State Standards which states can adopt or not as they see fit.  However, NCLB gave rise to the Common Core, and opposition to the Common Core and all its difficult testing has, in part, led to the end of “No Child Left Behind.”

Changes the new law would make include:

  • Schools would be less accountable to the federal government and more accountable to states and local school districts which would write their own standards for schools, students and teachers.
  • The US Education Department’s role would be reduced.
  • Students in public schools would need to be tested annually in math and English/language arts, and those scores would need to be published.
  • Schools would need programs to help low achieving students and schools.
  • Title 1 money for poor schools would continue.