About the Common Core State Standards: Background & Overview

Why New Standards?

College, career and civic life of the 21st century demands more of our students. Today, more than 50 percent of students who enter community college in Maine must take remedial courses before they can take college-level courses for credit, and the state’s employers say they have difficulty finding employees who come prepared to think critically, communicate, collaborate or have a basic ability to read and write effectively. In fact, the skills that employers say their applicants are lacking are the same ones that professors report their students don’t have.

The Common Core State Standards in English language arts and math are now a part of the Maine Learning Results standards and will better prepare our students to be successful in college and/or career by creating deeper, more rigorous and clearer expectations for learning. The standards emphasize more complex content and concepts and the development of real-world skills like problem-solving, collaboration, critical thinking and communication necessary for Maine students to succeed and Maine’s economy to thrive.

The new standards will also allow parents, students and teachers to use a common language for discussing student expectations and achievement. When students in families that are mobile including our military families move from one school to another, anywhere in the 45 states that have adopted the standards, they know they will have the same expectations at the same grade levels. And Maine is now part of a much larger marketplace and community of providers who are developing and sharing in many cases, for free lesson plans, texts and other materials that Maine teachers can pick and choose from to customize instruction for their students.

Still, Maine’s educators remain in the driver’s seat. Curriculum and instruction how teachers help students meet the standards remain local responsibilities in Maine, and always will.

Teachers in every school in Maine, with help from Maine DOE and many others, have been preparing for this for three years, and 2013-14 marks the first school year in which all teachers will be using the new standards as their guide.

History

In November 2007, education chiefs from the 50 states came together and discussed in the most serious way yet the possibility of developing common standards in English language arts (speaking, reading, writing, listening) and math.

Starting in 2009, Maine began voluntarily working with nearly all 50 states to develop the new academic standards in English language arts/literacy and mathematics through the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. We examined every state’s standards and the standards in dozens of other high-performing education systems in the world, including those well-known for their academic rigor and results like Singapore, Finland and Japan, among others.

Teachers from each of the participating states including Maine, along with State education staff and others, contributed ideas, offered feedback and worked on committees.

In March 2011, the Legislature formally adopted the standards as the English language arts and math standards in Maine’s Learning Results standards in Maine DOE Rules Chapter 131. View the summary or download the full text.

The Standards

The new standards are fewer in number, clearer and require deeper learning than Maine’s previous standards.

What is deeper learning? Think about the skills students must have to succeed in postsecondary education or to earn a decent living. They should be good problem solvers, be able to share their knowledge with others and listen to others’ ideas, and be able to take a problem assigned by a professor or work supervisor, analyze it, and develop a solution or propose a range of options for solving the problem. Without question, those are the skills we want to see in our workforce and in our higher education institutions.

To get students there, teachers now must think differently about the way they teach. For example, they now must provide learning experiences that integrate higher-order thinking with learning about content, they will have to shift how and when some content is taught, and they should incorporate more real-world applications.

In math, this means teachers will concentrate on teaching a more focused set of major mathematics concepts and skills. This will allow students time to master important ideas and skills in a more organized way throughout the year and from one grade to the next. It will also call for teachers to use rich and challenging mathematics content and to engage students in solving real-world problems in order to inspire greater interest in mathematics.

In English language arts and literacy, this means that in addition to stories and literature, students will read more texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas including science and social studies. They will read more challenging texts and be asked to construct written arguments. There will also be an increased emphasis on building a strong vocabulary so that students can read and understand more challenging material.

Common Core in the Classroom

The standards have been updated, but how students get, meet and exceed them continues to be the responsibility of local districts and classroom teachers. Maine teachers will continue to create lesson plans and tailor instruction to the unique needs of the students in their classrooms because they understand best what will work for their students. Standards are not curriculum. Maine has always left curriculum, instruction and required texts to the local level, and new standards will not change that.

Teachers in every school in Maine have been preparing for this for three years, and 2013-14 marks the first school year in which all teachers will be using the new standards as their guide.

Smarter Balanced, the new assessment aligned to the new standards, will first be administered in the spring of 2015.

Common Standards = Common Resources

With common standards, Maine is now part of a much larger learning community, giving our state access to lesson plans, texts and other materials that Maine teachers can pick and choose from to customize their instruction for their students in many cases, for free.

Resources Maine once had to develop on its own, or with a small group of states, will now be widely available. Far more high quality materials and support will become available for a lower cost. The pool of expertise available to us will grow considerably, saving time and money, and producing better outcomes for students.

Maine DOE content specialists are constantly mining these resources and sharing recommended resources, as are local school district curriculum leaders and teachers, and providers of professional development.