Teachers Guide to the Common Core State Standards


USC Rossier School of Education has created this resource to help educators navigate the ins and outs of the Common Core State Standards. Through this comprehensive guide, educators not only will become well-versed in these national standards but also will be able to provide stronger guidance to parents and community members.

What is the Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is a set of national educational standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics for grades K-12 that aim to prepare students for success in college and the workforce. These national standards are the first of their kind in the United States, which has historically left each state on its own to write, adopt, implement and assess academic standards.

While the majority of states have fully signed on to implement the Common Core in their schools, the public remains mostly unaware of the new standards and how they affect education in their community. [Click to tweet]

Map of the Common Core by State

Formally Adopted

The state curriculum is fully aligned with the Common Core Standards at time of publication in the following states:

Partially Adopted

The state curriculum in the following states is partially adopted a portion of the Common Core Standards. The curriculum may be aligned with the English Language Arts or Math Standards:


The state curriculum has initially adopted the standards but at time of publication has formally withdrawn its participation in the following states:

Under Review

At the time of publication, the adoption stance of the following state curriculums is currently under review:


The following states have opted out of adopting the Common Core Standards:

Brief History of the Common Core Standards

The 1990s ushered in the standards movement. During this time, states began outlining what students needed to know at the conclusion of each grade level.

The problem with each state defining its own learning goals was that each state also defined what it meant to be proficient. This caused disparities in the levels of achievement across states and meant students were coming to college or entering the workforce with vastly different skill and knowledge levels.

In response, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) created a state-led, bipartisan solution to the problem — national standards for grades K-12 that take students on a path of rigorous preparation for college and career readiness. In creating the CCSS, the writing teams researched the best state educational standards that existed at the time. They wanted to see what types of standards successful states had in common.

In the creation of both the ELA and mathematics CCSS, the College and Career Readiness (CCR) anchor standards were created first. The anchor standards defined what a student should know and understand by high school graduation. From there, the K-12 grade-level standards were written to support a student's journey toward the CCR anchor standards.

Panels of teachers, content experts, state officials and academic thinkers both wrote and provided feedback on the drafts of the CCSS. The writers sought feedback from the public twice during the writing process. In addition, groups such as the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and National Council of Teachers of English convened panels to offer feedback during the public comment phase of development.

What the Common Core Standards Look Like

The two subjects covered by the Common Core standards are English Language Arts and Mathematics.

English Language Arts Common Core Standards

The English Language Arts (ELA) Common Core Standards are for students in grades K-12. Standards for grades K-8 are broken down by grade, while high school standards are grouped into two bands (grades 9-10 and grades 11-12) to allow flexibility in their design.

There are four strands of ELA instruction under the Common Core Standards:

  1. Reading
  2. Writing
  3. Listening and Speaking
  4. Language

These standards are designed to be taught concurrently in well-designed instructional plans. For example, the comprehension standards that require students to demonstrate their understanding are easily supported by the speaking and listening standards that require students to discuss what they've read or heard.

Standards Under the ELA Common Core

Under these standards, students who are "college-and-career ready" will be able to:

Six Shifts in the English Language Arts Common Core Standards

There are six major shifts in the English Language Arts Standards that differentiate the standards above from those previously adopted by individual states:

  1. Reading of complex texts: Under this standard, in-class text complexity is aligned to help students succeed in the postsecondary world. The Lexile levels of college textbooks, as well as journals and magazines, have become increasingly complex over the past 50 years.
  2. Support ideas in reading, writing and speaking with evidence: Assessment questions are based on text-dependent questions that require students to cite texts within their answers.
  3. Learning from nonfiction texts: In order to help students become more sophisticated readers, in-class texts should focus on nonfiction genres. The majority of texts read in the postsecondary world are informational (e.g., textbooks, journals, magazines, trade publications).
  4. Emphasizing academic vocabulary: Vocabulary instruction is focused on academic, tier-two words due to their ability to transfer across content areas and support students' reading and listening comprehension.
  5. Writing from sources: There are three writing capacities: writing to persuade, writing to explain, and writing to convey real or imagined experiences. This standard emphasizes students' need to write argumentative, informative and explanatory texts.
  6. Using literacy instruction in content areas: ELA teachers are responsible for teaching literary content, such as poetry and creative nonfiction. However, with the emphasis and need for students to have more exposure to informational texts, teachers in other content areas should assign and teach complex, informational texts.

Recommendations for Types of Texts Used in ELA-Aligned Common Core Classes

5th grade
8th grade
12th grade

Mathematics Common Core Standards

The Mathematics Common Core Standards stress conceptual understanding of ideas, as well as constantly returning to the basic math skills of place value and arithmetic. The goal for these math standards was to solve the problem of previous math curricula: covering too many topics in not enough detail. The old standards left students' math skills behind those of their peers in other countries.

Grades K-8 have specific math standards for each grade. High school math standards are broken into conceptual categories that allow schools to create unique courses of study. As with the ELA standards, the math standards do not dictate the use of particular curricula or teaching methods, nor does a teacher need to teach the math standards in the order they appear in the Common Core documents.

Standards under the Mathematics Common Core

Six Shifts in the Mathematics Common Core Standards

  1. Focus: More time is to be devoted to important concepts. Rather than covering many topics quickly, the standards stress the need to deepen instruction around pivotal ideas.
  2. Coherence: The Common Core is aligned so that connections can be made between learning from grade to grade. The coherence of the standards provides students a solid foundation on which to anchor more difficult mathematical concepts.
  3. Fluency: Students should be able to solve problems with speed and accuracy. These standards build in time for repetition and memorization.
  4. Deep understanding: Linked with focus, students should learn the concepts behind the math work rather than just tricks and algorithms to get the right answer.
  5. Application: When solving problems, students should be able to choose the appropriate mathematical skills needed.
  6. Dual intensity: Practice and understanding are equally stressed in the classroom.

Understanding Common Core Standards Assessments

Questions and item types on Common Core Standards assessments require students to use technology in ways other than simply clicking on the correct answer. Some of the new item types include drag-and-drop technology, where the student selects something and drags it to a different spot on the screen. This might be a number to complete an equation or a sentence to complete a paragraph.

Text highlighting also shows up in ELA testing, prompting students to select parts of stories and articles that support their thinking. Other enhanced item types are questions with multiple correct answers, equation building, drop-down menus, constructed responses and multipart questions.

Learn more about the technology-enhanced item types from the NWEA (Northwest Evaluation Association)

Types of Tests

How to Teach Parents About the Common Core

Teachers spend hours studying education and child development. Learning and understanding new national standards, while seemingly daunting, is not an impossible feat. Overall, the Common Core Standards are logical progressions of student learning in K-12 in English language arts and math. Yes, there are big shifts in how they will teach concepts, but as educators, teachers understand why they teach them.

It is important that teachers use this expertise to explain the Common Core Standards to the parents of their students and school community. The public perception of the standards is that they are "impossible" or "outrageous." Teachers can help parents better understand what kind of work their children are doing in class, how it leads to greater academic success, and what parents can do to foster learning at home.

The majority of today's parents learned math by memorizing algorithms, so learning about conceptual-based number sense may be a difficult transition.

Teachers should consider the following seven ways to help parents understand how the Common Core is supporting what their children are learning in the classroom:

  1. Hold parent information meetings to discuss upcoming standards.
  2. Post examples or videos on a classroom website that will help parents help their children with homework.
  3. Provide written, step-by-step explanations for new problem-solving methods in math. Remember, most parents learned math by memorizing algorithms, so learning about conceptual-based number sense may be a difficult transition. Providing parents with information and explanations on how to solve problems conceptually may help ease their worries.
  4. Provide book lists that match students' Lexile level and text complexity levels at grade level. Be sure to include informational texts on those suggested reading lists.
  5. Provide copies of student writing samples, which can be found in Appendix C of the Common Core Standards. Better yet, compile classroom writing exemplars to familiarize parents with what quality writing looks like at their child's grade level.
  6. Hold a Common Core math fair and ask each class to demonstrate what kind of problem-solving they're working on in class.
  7. Share test-prep resources with parents so they can see and use sample questions with their children.

Common Core Tools and Resources

Below are a list of tools and resources from both the Common Core Standards Initiative themselves as well as resources from the teaching community.

Resources from the Common Core Standards Initiative

Common Core Resources for English Language Arts

Common Core Resources for Math

Common Core Lesson Plan Tools and Resources

Common Core Resources for Parents

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