Guest Column


What is Common Core?

By Sherine Smith
By Sherine Smith

You may be familiar with the term “common core.” There is some debate whether the Common Core State Standards are good or bad and it is helpful to understand how these standards improve student learning and skill acquisition.

The California State Standards are derived from the Common Core State Standards and were adopted by the California State Board of Education on Aug. 2, 2010. Building on the best of existing state standards, the California State Standards provide clear and consistent learning goals to help prepare students for college, career, and life. The standards clearly demonstrate what students are expected to learn at each grade level so every parent and teacher can understand and support their learning. The standards do not dictate the curriculum or lesson plans; our teachers and school leaders still make those decisions.

Before we started using them in our schools, the Common Core Standards were developed by a group of teachers, state governors, and education leaders from 48 states. The standards were developed based on education research and proven best practices from schools in California and across the country. State participation in the development process was voluntary and so was the decision to adopt them in California in 2010.

The standards concentrate on skills that will help our children succeed in the future, such as critical thinking and problem solving. They also help educators teach those skills by establishing learning goals that are much clearer than those we used in the past. With solid new guidelines to measure our students’ progress toward clear goals, we can give them the individualized support they need and give parents more information about how their children are doing, including how they are improving from year to year.

In LBUSD, our students are currently taking the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). California worked with a consortium of 21 other states to develop these assessments. These tests measure how well students have mastered the standards. For example, by the end of third grade, our students should be able to measure and estimate weights of liquid and solve word problems using those quantities. Like the updated standards, they emphasize critical thinking. A student can be asked to edit a document to test grammar skills, or draw diagrams to solve math problems. Students can receive partial credit for some questions and are scored on whether they demonstrate a full, partial, or limited understanding of the concept.

The tests are called “computer adaptive tests.” This means that as our students take the test, the questions’ level of difficulty will adjust based on their responses and help us pinpoint their individual skill level. This information allows us to address learning gaps for each child. The tests provide our teachers with clear information, and parents with timely feedback, on how each child is doing.

In LBUSD, we have embraced the updated California State Standards and have worked diligently to prepare for and implement these more rigorous standards for our students’ benefit. We are pleased to continue to provide the gold standard of education in Laguna Beach and look forward to graduating students who are well-prepared for college and careers and the challenge to compete in a global economy.

You can find more information at the Common Core website, the California State PTA site, The California Department of Education, and Embrace the Core.

The author is the superintendent of the Laguna Beach Unified School District.

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  1. Dr.Smith is wrong. There is not “some debate about about whether common core standards are good or bad” here in Laguna Beach. While the OC Board of Education and several nearby school districts sponsored forums where supporters and opponents of common core were allowed to ask questions and present pros and cons, that has not happened in Laguna Beach because the Superintendent and her staff are not prepared to explain much less defend their policies and practices in an open dialogue. Like the School Board itself, the Superintendent and her staff rely on contractors and consultants to carry out the common core transition because the Board and the senior staff at LBUSD don’t know what the Hell they are doing. It is a culture of mediocrity that is sustainable only because we have good teachers and families that support students, but that will not be sustainable if we don’t step back from the uncritical acceptance of statewide mandates at the expense of real local control. Even parents who support common core are stunned by the lack of give and take discussion of the strengths and weaknesses. The Superintendent and the Board are refusing to allow parents who want to be positive to ask questions and expect actual substantive answers, about the impact of new standards on content and how individual results of controversial testing will be used, and by whom. Instead the public gets fluff like this commentary right off the websites funded by corporations making billions off this “voluntary” program adopted in the political and fiscal confusion of 2009. If the community sits still for this and doesn’t require more competent local control our local schools will suffer.


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