What is Common Core?

Sometime between the years just before the civil war and the 1920’s, America went through major changes. We transitioned from a land of farmers to a world industrial power. Careers moved from family farm to engineering the design of automobiles and airplanes. Chemistry experts of the day developed gasoline. Society changed. People had new ways to interact; the telephone and the radio.  Homes and the streets of our cities came to light each night with electric lights. This was part of the industrial revolution.

Students coming out of school today are joining society at the start of another revolution. College majors that didn’t exist just a few years ago are becoming the secure, high paying careers that students now study for. Biomedical Engineering degrees at University of Michigan, Biometrics (facial recognition development) at West Virginia University, Cyber security at Northwestern and new robotics and computer sciences programs at Stanford, UCLA and USC. The change in the way our society interacts is still evolving with Face Book, Instagram and others being just the start.

The curriculum in our children’s school is evolving to meet these needs; the introduction of Common Core Standards. Common Core was designed with those challenges in mind and to ensure that our children all received the same, high standard, education and are held to the same standards. The curriculum is designed to better prepare children for real world scenarios and needs with a focus on four skills; Critical Thinking, Communicating, Collaboration and Creativity.

Common Core Standards are built on the most advanced thinking of how to prepare students for college and careers and life. If your child’s school already ranks high, Common Core is not going to lower those standards. It should, in fact, raise those standards and the standards of all schools, with the biggest positive impact expected at schools in economically challenged areas.

Common Core was designed with the end in mind – to meet standard requirements.

When a student reads a paragraph, they will be required to go back and select words that show how the character felt. In other words, they must extract evidence from the paragraph that shows that they understand it. This is determined to be more effective in helping the student to better understand what they are reading.

Your student’s homework will look different. Instead of just having the correct answer to a math problem, your child will need explain the process that was used to arrive at that answer. Yes, six times twelve is still seventy two but explain the process that brought you to that answer. The new curriculum is less about memorizing and more focused on understanding and being able to explain the process.

Fractions have always been a critical phase in math education. Under the new Common Core Standards, fractions will still be taught using area charts such as the example below where the shaded squares show us 3/4 of the area equal 9/12 and that each of the three columns equal 1/4.

Common Core 1

Common Core Standards are asking teachers to reference fractions as part of a number line such as the example below.

  1. The rectangle below has length 1. What fraction does the shaded part represent?

Common Core 2

  1. The rectangle below has the same length as the rectangle above. What fraction does the shaded part represent?

Common Core 3

  1. Using the pictures to explain why the two fractions represented above are equivalent.

The purpose of the above method is to provide students with an opportunity to explain fraction equivalence through visual models in a particular example. Part C is approached as a discussion before students are asked to write an explanation. Students can talk generally about the relationship between the pictures. (“Each of the larger pieces is broken up into three little pieces”), which can then be refined and connected to the appropriate operations. (“There are three times as many smaller pieces as bigger pieces”)

Common Core 4



This theme will be in place in school work, homework and testing.

There will not be one way of teaching. Schools and Districts will still determine the best method for teaching Common Core.  But the Common Core principles will remain the same. And the basics of education remain;

  • What do we want students to learn?
  • How will they learn it?
  • How will we asses that they have learned it?

Giving tests will still happen. In fact, they may increase in frequency to measure progress against benchmarks. Testing and accountability are an important part of Common Core.

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System was established on January 1, 2014. The CAASPP System replaces the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program, which became inoperative on July 1, 2013

The old STAR test asked a child to read a paragraph, and then choose from four multi choice questions. If the student didn’t understand the paragraph they still had a 25% chance of a correct answer. The new test will ask them to answer multiple questions about that paragraph. This requires that the student understands what they read.

Under the former testing system, a question would look like the sample below. The student simply selected one answer from the multiple choice of four answers. The student may or may not understand the process of how to get to the correct answer. This is a standard algorithm which has one right answer and one way of getting the answer. There is no need for the student to show their work or explain their thinking. They have a 25% chance of answering correctly even if they just guessed at the answer. Can you answer this correctly without a calculator and show how you arrived at the answer?

Common Core 5

Under the new testing process, questions will look more like the samples below.

The two boxes on the left are examples on “mental math”. These are acceptable methods if they include explanation.

The box on the top right is repeated subtraction or “decompose”, and the box on the bottom right is an area model.

All answers would be acceptable but justification on how the student arrived at the answer is required. Students will often be asked to explain their answers in more than one way.

Common Core 6

Common Core Standards are also new to many teachers and they are working hard to make the transition as simple and productive as possible. They understand that homework has changed and students as well as parents may sometimes find the homework challenging.

If you do find it challenging to assist your child with homework, don’t get frustrated. There are many resources for you. Your Child’s teacher should be your first point of contact. There are also on-line resources that where you can get help. For quick answers with homework help follow the Face CommonCoreCA at https://www.facebook.com/commoncoreca  You can post homework questions on this page and within a few hours, a California credentialed teacher will explain how to get the answer.  You can also see questions from other parents.