The standards spell out, grade by grade, the reading and math skills that students should have as they go from kindergarten through high school.
For example, a first-grade reader should be able to use a story’s pictures and details to describe its characters and then in second grade, be able to compare and contrast two versions of a story like Cinderella. The skills necessary to pass the grade level tests increases each year, with new skills added at each grade level.
In math, a first-grade student should be able to add and subtract, and in third grade do multiplication and division.
While the Common Core is not a day-by-day curriculum that dictates teachers’ lessons, many districts spent the summer having teacher teams writing curriculum that address the core’s outcomes.
The new standards are considered more rigorous because they require students to think and reason more. The English standards rely on a more even mix of literary and informational texts, such as the Declaration of Independence. The math standards focus not only on the how, but the why, of problem-solving. As a result, standardized tests designed to track students’ progress are more involved than the typical fill-in-the-bubble exams, translating to delays between test day and results, as well as higher costs to pay graders to reach short-answer responses.
Many states have turned to the Common Core as a way to demonstrate they are preparing students for college or career — one of the key conditions the Education Department identified as a qualification to win money from its Race to the Top competition. The department didn’t explicitly push Common Core but the result has been an increased interest in their standards.