Category Archives: Common Core Standards

Common Core English/Language Arts test results becoming available

Common Core test results for students tested at the end of the 2013-14 school year are beginning to be released. The youngest readers tested are third graders. Here are the results for grades 3 to 12 from the three states which have made public their results so far for the English/Language Arts tests:

Child writing with right hand.

  • In New York, 31.3% of students scored proficient or better, meaning more than 2/3 of the one million students tested flunked the English test.
  • West Virginia’s Department of Education said the majority of its students scored less than 50% on the tests, except for fifth graders who scored 51%. Third graders scored a 46% proficiency rate.
  • In Missouri, 59.7% passed the test; however, minorities and low income students scored 13% worse than the rest of the students.

Although students in these states did not take the same tests, they were tested on the same concepts.  Comparing the proficiency rates from one state to another is not fair since students took different tests and many eligible students opted out of taking the tests.  In New York, 200,000 students refused to take the tests.  These students fit the profile of white, with lower test scores, and from less needy areas.  This means a large number of students who might have raised the overall state test results did not take the test.

More states are expected to release test results later this month.

New York released a prompt which its third graders were required to read for their test. NY also released six test questions related to that prompt. Click here to see the prompt and the questions. If you find the test questions hard, so did NY third graders.  More than half the students missed two of the questions.

Is the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction reading justified?

Perhaps the biggest change the Common Core is bringing to public school reading in the US is its emphasis on reading more nonfiction and less fiction. The reasoning behind this change is to prepare students better for the reading they need to do in their math, science and social studies classes and in their future careers, especially in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).

Is the change really necessary? Let’s compare fiction reading and nonfiction reading for students who are beyond the picture book stage.

chart comparing fiction reading skills with nonfiction reading skills

(Adapted from State of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Governor’s Literacy Education and Reading Network Source)

As you can see, reading nonfiction is harder than reading fiction. It often requires more parent or teacher involvement prior to the reading to make connections to what the student already knows; during the reading to explain vocabulary and concepts; and after the reading to restate the main ideas and important details or to explain complicated concepts.

Fiction, too, can be better understood with teacher involvement, but usually fiction can be appreciated (if to a lesser degree) by the student reading alone so long as the student’s reading level matches the reading selection.

If you hope your child will have a great career someday as a doctor or environmentalist or physics teacher, you can appreciate why an increased emphasis on nonfiction reading is important even in first grade. You may question the Common Core, but its emphasis on more nonfiction reading can only help our kids.

My daughter reads fast, but when I ask her to summarize, she can’t explain well. What do I do?

Occasionally a read-a-holic student will have lower than expected reading grades. The parent is baffled because the child always has a book in her hands and goes through novels voraciously. When I ask such a student to read aloud for me, she shows many of these behaviors:

dhild running with book in hands




  • She doesn’t slow down for commas or stop for periods.
  • Her sentences merge and keep going for as long as she can read without taking a breath, and when she pauses to breathe, it might be in the middle of a sentence.
  • She may skip a line of reading when moving from the end of one line to the beginning of the next.
  • When she comes to an unfamiliar vocabulary word, she bulldozes it, pronouncing it any which-way, and continues reading.
  • Her inflection is flat, like that of an auctioneer.
  • She does not self-monitor; she doesn’t pause to consider that she didn’t understand what she just read.
  • When she answers questions about the reading selection, she does not remember important details and she doesn’t take the time to search for them in the selection.
  • She misses inferences and more subtle figurative language like metaphors.When asked to restate the main idea in a sentence or two, she talks around the subject but doesn’t nail the point the author is making.

What’s going on?

For such a student, speed is the important value. Finish quickly. Move on. (Notice if she is slap-dash about her piano practicing, dressing or cleaning her room. This is a personality trait, not just a reading trait.) In reading, this behavior might develop as she reads novels of her choice. She doesn’t care if she understands every nuance; she would rather understand enough to enjoy the story without slowing down for details.

This kind of reading might work for leisure-time reading, but it doesn’t work for most school reading, especially the kind of reading being tested under the new Common Core Standards. Common Core is trying to break such bad habits by forcing a reader to name the paragraph in which the answer is found, to define a word, to distinguish between fact and opinion, to restate an idea, to infer and to summarize.

What to do to improve fluency and reading comprehension?

  • Ask your student to read aloud. She will fume because it takes longer to read aloud. But make her do it. Silently read along with her and note the kinds of errors  which she is making.
  • If she is ignoring punctuation, stop her and ask her to reread and pause appropriately. She will hate this, but making this one change is half the battle.
  • Ask her to use inflection now that she can hear the sentences correctly. Model it if necessary.
  • If she slides over longer words she doesn’t know, stop her immediately and ask her to sound out the word. If she can’t do it on her own, cover a prefix and a suffix; ask her what the root means, or if she knows another word with that root. Then reassemble the word and pronounce it.
  • Sometimes it is not the long words which stump students; it is the idioms or the secondary meanings of short, familiar words. Stop your student when she encounters such words to be sure she understands them.
  • If she skips lines of reading, have her use her finger to keep track, or an opaque book mark.
  • At the end of a paragraph or a few paragraphs, ask her to explain what she just read. If she has missed something significant, go back and show it to her and together figure out why she missed it.
  • Many times, ask what the main idea is. If she can’t nail it, have her reread while you point out clues to the overall meaning.
  • Model self-monitoring by stopping her now and then to take stock of what was read and what to expect next.  Let your student hear you talking to yourself about what you just read.
  • Lastly, let her read her leisure-time reading undisturbed, bad habits and all. You can only fight so many battles; let her win that one small skirmish.

Did the Common Core eliminate handwriting as a skill kids need to learn? I can’t believe it!

The Common Core requires legible manuscript (printing) in kindergarten and first grade, but after that there are no standards relating to handwriting. 3rd grade student writing

In fourth grade, the Common Core requires students to be able to keyboard or type a full page at one sitting.  Learning cursive writing is not required.

However, the Common Core developers have encouraged individual states and school districts to modify the standards as appropriate for their populations. Some states have included handwriting. In California, kids need to learn printing in second grade and cursive in third and fourth grade. Massachusetts requires legible handwriting of any kind in fourth grade. Private schools, which may or may not follow the Common Core, usually include handwriting as a necessary skill.

Does your state require children to practice handwriting? You can find out by going to your state’s department of education and searching for the state-required curriculum. You may find that your state has adopted the Common Core as a whole, without modification, in which case handwriting will not be taught after first grade.

But that does not mean you can’t augment your child’s learning. Teacher supply stores sell booklets on how to write in cursive. Or you can go online to buy such materials.

There is good reason to do so. Handwriting (as opposed to writing with a keyboard)

  • Develops dexterity in fingers
  • Improves hand / eye coordination
  • Activates many parts of the brain not used when keyboarding
  • Encourages children to write longer passages, and
  • Improves letter recognition.

Another reason to learn cursive is to be able to read letters and documents of the past. I have many letters from my aunt—written in cursive. I have a letter and post cards sent home from Europe by my father during World War II—written in cursive. I have copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address—written in cursive.

Like much of the Common Core, the reduction in emphasis on handwriting is controversial.

The Common Core will change what your kids read in school

In the past, most English Language Arts reading material was taken from children’s literature: stories of Aesop, Judy Blume and the Brothers Grim, for example.

But under the Common Core, the amount of time children spend reading and discussing literature in the public schools will steeply decline in most states. In its place students will read more informational and persuasive reading, such as Lincoln’s second inaugural address, a letter home from a Vietnam War soldier, or an article showing the pros and cons of taking music lessons.

boy reading bookFor younger children, reading material will be divided roughly into thirds: one third persuasive reading, one third expository reading, and one third narrative reading. But as children become high schoolers, the amount of time they spend on literature could drop to about one fifth of the total.

The point of this shift is to make students better prepared for the rigor of a college education and the kind of jobs that someday await them.

In the United States’ best universities, the number of English literature majors has dropped noticeably in the past thirty years, while at the same time science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors have been attracting more students. Yet many college freshmen are not prepared to understand college science, technology, engineering or math texts. Nor are they prepared to write essays in those fields using logic and critical thinking.

To compete on the world stage, believe the developers of the Common Core, students need a radically different kind of education than their parents received—even in English Language Arts. So out with Huck Finn (or maybe read just an excerpt) and in with primary documents; out with Romeo and Juliet and in with two-sided arguments on the place of women in combat troops.

Figuring out the Common Core

Lately, I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around the Common Core State Standards, especially as they relate to the English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum. I’ve figured out a few things.

  • The Standards are poorly named. Shared state educational goals comes closer to describing what the Standards really are.
  • There are two sets of standards. One set applies to all students and to all subjects, grades three through high school. The other set applies specifically to one subject at a time in one grade or to one high school course. Yet they apply in tandem.Teachers struggle to read huge books of the Commo Core Standards
  • Like this past winter in Boston, the Standards seem to go on forever. Brief they are not.
  • The purpose of the Standards is to raise the achievement of public school students so they are better prepared to start college or the kinds of jobs that demand a more rigorous education. In particular, they seem geared to preparing students for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) college majors and careers, not for the humanities.
  • The Standards seem to be taking a scientific, critical approach to studying reading. They demand that a student prove from what paragraph he found his answer. They demand that he understand multiple meanings of words, or roots of words, or idioms. They demand that he be able to summarize a reading selection and contrast it with another reading selection for a precise idea. They demand that a student understand the purpose of a selection and its intended audience and how that influences certain author choices.
  • The Standards seem to require students to study literature less and to study informational and persuasive texts more. These informational and persuasive texts will contain more reading of government-published writing, a red flag for some critics.
  • The Standards are in some ways following the lead of college students who, in the past thirty years, have moved away from majors in the humanities and have moved toward more narrow fields like nursing and computer programming where the jobs are. The Standards are limiting the amount of time a student engages in the humanities and are increasing the amount of time a student engages in more technical reading.
  • The standards don’t require particular reading selections, but for each grade and subject they name a list of readings of the kind they recommend. Critics fear that those lists will become a short list of readings from which teachers will not deviate.
  • Because the Standards are so long-winded, and because teachers’ jobs will depend on how well students test on the Standards, I already see individual teachers deferring to the judgment of district-wide administrators. Those administrators, and not the teachers, are interpreting the Standards and are suggesting specifically how those standards are to be taught and with what teaching materials.
  • The first end-of-year Common Core tests will be taken in ELA and math in many states in April and May 2015. (Science and social studies Standards will be introduced in the 2015-2016 school year in elementary and middle grades.) Scores on the 2015 tests will not be made public until the summer, so for 2015, those scores will not be part of final course grades. But they will be included in final grades in 2016.
  • Expect a hullabaloo as schools and states report test results during the summer. Expect more states to withdraw from the Standards and others to demand changes. Expect teachers to resign from the stress of implementing the Standards.  Expect parents to refuse to allow their children to be tested.  Expect many, many children to feel ashamed that they cannot answer the questions.  Expect a lively debate in the media about the future of US education and the best ways to prepare our students for their futures.
  • The Common Core is far from a done deal.

Common Core requires increasingly complex texts

One of the goals of the Common Core Standards that is receiving flak across the country is the push for students to understand increasingly complex texts.

Discouraged child thinks there are too many words in a book she is readingYou might assume that a second grader would read more difficult books than a first grader, but according to the people who wrote the standards, there is not proof that this is happening in US schools. Their “research shows that while the complexity of reading demands for college, career, and citizenship have held steady or risen over the past half century, the complexity of texts students are exposed to has steadily decreased in that same interval.”

They believe that the texts used in middle schools and in high schools have been “dumbed down” over recent decades. To counteract the “dumbing down” of texts, the Common Core Standards want to increase the difficulty of the texts students read so that US students are well prepared for college and for work.

The Standards state that the reading complexity levels for all grades need to be made more difficult, and that what a student studies in May should be more complex than what he studied in the previous September.

How will this be measured? Three ways:

  • Qualitatively: An attentive teacher will note whether a student recognizes various levels of meaning in a work of literature, or if he recognizes that language is used in new or archaic ways, of if the reading requires background specific knowledge that the student might not have.
  • Quantitatively: Readability measures will be used to determine the difficulty level of the materials students read, and the students will be tested to see how much of the material they understand.
  • Reader-task considerations: A teacher with knowledge of her student will rate the student’s motivation, knowledge base, and experience as well as the purpose of the assigned reading, and the difficulty of the task which the teacher assigns (for example, responding to open-ended questions is more difficult than responding to multiple choice questions).
Common Core Georgia Standards

Click on picture for the entire document.

The Georgia Department of Education has created a rubric for teachers (and parents) to use to determine the text complexity of a given reading selection. When the points are totaled, texts with scores of between 80 to 100 are considered of appropriate complexity.

For more information, go to: and