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Learning to work with Common Core

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Of the many controversies in American education, few are more intense than the issue of Common Core. But whether you’re a fan or a critic, Common Core is a thing that exists, and there are some facts every parent should know if they want their youngster to prosper under the new system.


1. Common Core is not a curriculum

Some may think that Common Core consists of learning content that all students must learn. Not quite. Common Core is a set of learning requirements that affect every grade, from kindergarten to grade twelve. Put simply, it doesn’t tell students what they must learn, so much as how they must learn it -- or perhaps it’s more accurate to say how they must prove that they have done the learning. The changes, however, are substantial, and will probably make school a great deal more challenging for a great many students. After all the official goal is to ensure America “catches up” with the nations at the top of the global education rankings. It is also intended to make sure that young people are better equipped to handle college and work.


2. Guessing is much harder

Questions presented to students will offer a lot less “wiggle room” for those who only have a partial understanding of the material. In other words the questions themselves will sort of be “mini tests” that require analytical thought to comprehend. No, they don’t get a mark just for understanding the questions. The idea is to push students to have increased comprehension in general, rather than just having them study specific facts or formulae.

Here’s a sample Common Core test question:

“Jim uses ribbon to make bookmarks. Jim has 9 feet of ribbon. He uses 1/3 foot of ribbon to make each bookmark. What is the total number of bookmarks Jim makes with all 9 feet of Ribbon?”

This is a fairly straightforward question, one which might appear on any exam, Common Core or not. However the answer isn’t multiple choice; the test-taker has to do the calculation, showing their work, and provide the correct result. Guessing is pretty much a waste of time. A student sitting for this exam, in other words, needs a very thorough understanding of the concepts involved if they want to get a better grade.


3. Answering different questions

You might remember studying as involving a whole lot of memorization. Two students sitting on the floor of a busy high school hallway testing their recall of formulae, historical dates and so on. But under Common Core, the idea is, instead, to make sure those students reach a far deeper understanding of the subjects on their timetables -- deep enough, perhaps, to be able to teach it to others. That means asking the difficult question “why” a whole lot more. Students will be expected to understand the big picture, and the little picture too.


4. Understand and prepare

An awful lot of people have some awfully strong feelings about Common Core. But like it or loathe it, Common Core is sticking around for the time being. As a parent, therefore, you should try to understand all the standards being set by Common Core, and how they apply to your child’s schooling. After that, work with your youngster to make sure they understand what’s expected of them. Check in regularly to make sure he/she is on track. And keep your eyes peeled for mistakes in those tests and assignments! Teachers have to adjust to Common Core as well, and errors will pop up from time to time.


There are loads of resources online that will help you better understand Common Core. Indeed there are even apps on the subject. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s teachers if you have any questions or concerns.

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