core education illustration
By Julie Antilla
Illustration by Andy J. Miller / Photo by Luke Rutan

The Common Core State Standards set goals for what students are expected to learn at each grade level, so that every parent and teacher can understand and support their learning. The standards draw on international models as well as research and input from numerous sources, including educators from kindergarten through college, state departments of education, scholars, assessment developers, professional organizations, parents, students, and members of the public.

Yet because the standards are fairly new (Washington adopted them in 2011) and complex, not many people outside of the education community understand what the standards are for.

“Why can’t they just multiply?” a parent might ask, when faced with their child’s math homework.

I train the future educators in my classes to understand the Common Core State Standards and how to incorporate them into their teaching. Here are a few things I think are important to know about these standards:

1. The standards are designed to encourage higher-level thinking. In the past, for students to be successful in school, they had to show that they’d learned information. But learning means developing more complex thinking skills. Now we’re focused on teaching these skills rather than just expecting students to develop them on their own. The standards identify both the content and skills students need to truly learn.

2. Anchor standards connect learning across grade levels. It’s always been a challenge for teachers to figure out what their students need to know. Standards help clarify learning goals around concepts that build on one another from year to year. In special education, it enables students with IEPs to have annual goals that develop skills and knowledge, so that students who may be working at a different grade level from their peers can continue to grow on a learning path consistent with their ability.

3. The standards are designed to decrease dropout rates. In the 42 states that have adopted the Common Core, standards make it easier for schools to honor students’ effort so that students can meet high school graduation requirements. It is too early to tell whether the standards have impacted national dropout rates but I’m hopeful that they will.

At SPU, we want to do our part in preparing the next generation of teachers, with the belief that when teachers get into schools, they can empower each other to teach to these standards effectively. The Common Core State Standards provide clear and consistent learning goals to help prepare students for college, career, and life.

Julie Antilla

Julie Antilla is assistant professor of curriculum and instruction in SPU’s School of Education.