New Common Core and Essential Standards Align Teaching and Learning to Career and College Readiness

As North Carolina public school students return to school for the 2012-13 year, teachers are preparing new lessons and new teaching strategies to match new teaching and learning standards in every grade and every subject. This is the first time that North Carolina has implemented a completely revised Standard Course of Study in all areas and grades at once.

North Carolina teachers and students in kindergarten through 12th grade will follow Common Core state standards in mathematics and language arts. In other subjects, the state’s own revised Essential Standards will be their guide. All of the new standards are available online at the K-12 Curriculum and Instruction/NC Standard Course of Study website.

Work on North Carolina’s totally revamped Standard Course of Study began in 2008, and thousands of teachers, curriculum experts and subject experts have been involved as the state developed its own Essential Standards and adopted the Common Core. Professional development has been underway for more than a year to provide information about the new standards and what they mean for each grade and subject as well as best practices for success with these new standards. Teams of teachers and other educators from each school district have participated in this training and each district has provided professional development for each school. Support has included face-to-face professional development and 17 online professional development modules.

“The Common Core represents an important shift in our approach to looking at what teachers teach and what students learn,” said Dr. Rebecca Garland, Chief Academic Officer at the NC Department of Public Instruction. “It will encourage students to make better connections between topics, to see the relevancy of what they are learning and to go more in-depth at each grade level. These are goals that are designed to help students all along the way to prepare for career and college readiness.”

In English language arts, students and parents will notice three major shifts in what teacher emphasize.

  • There will be a major emphasis on vocabulary, especially understanding how to properly use words in different contexts and uses.
  • The use of evidence will be more important. Students will be asked to explain their thinking and to use examples to support their ideas.
  • Information texts will be very important. Informational texts can include everything from newspapers to computer manuals – all the types of reading material that adults use in their day-to-day lives and in workplaces. Novels and other types of literature will continue to be important, but other kinds of texts will make up about half of the texts that students read and use.

In mathematics, the major shift is in the depth of the new curriculum. Students will continue to learn and master the same core concepts that are so critical in mathematics, but their lessons and studies will be organized to allow students to learn the concepts at a greater level of understanding and depth.

The mathematics Common Core is all about:

  1. better conceptual understanding. For example, students should not just “do” fraction problems. They should really understand what fractions are, when to use them, what they mean and how they relate to other math concepts and procedures as well as how to solve problems that involve fractions.
  2. mastery of procedural skills. Students need to be proficient in arithmetic skills, calculation skills and also procedural skills to work with and solve equations.
  3. application to the real world. Using mathematics skills to solve real problems is the goal.

Parents may notice that student homework looks a little different this year. Rather than a long list of homework math problems that are all fundamentally the same, parents may see math homework that contains fewer problems and different kinds of problems that are more in-depth. Students may be asked to write about their math problems and solutions. In English language arts, students should be reading both informational text as well as literary texts. At the high school level, the course titles in mathematics may be different, but the same college-preparatory math will be covered.

Parents can help their students by asking them questions about what they are learning. Ask more “why” questions at home. Ask students for examples of their work and what they are learning. Take the opportunity to ask students to use what they are learning at school. Activities as diverse as car trips, grocery shopping and reading the morning newspaper or watching the news offer opportunities to ask students to apply what they are learning.

For more information about the new Standard Course of Study in North Carolina, please contact the NC Department of Public Instruction’s Communication division at 919.807.3450.