An all too uncommon approach to the CCSS

It is not uncommon to fear the unknown.  Twenty short years ago I entered my first middle school language arts classroom in Hillsborough County, Florida, armed with an enthusiastic attitude, a bevy of educational theories, and, of course, a curriculum guide.  But along with these tools, I brought a deep fear:  What if the students do not learn?  What if my style of teaching was out of style?  What if I fail to truly help these students learn?

Over time, my fears were allayed.  I worked on my timing, demeanor, practices, procedures, relationships, rigor, and, at times, comedy to shape the classroom experience that my students receive today.  The learning curve was great, but over the course of a few years, my students were experiencing true learning gains.

Once again, I am wrought with the fear of the unknown as I embark on a journey of a teacherpreneur this school year; wherein, I will devote half of my school day to middle school students and afternoons to developing a product to help teachers and parents understand and implement the Common Core State Standards.  This task is daunting, exciting and frightening as there is a lot to learn and share.

Nationally, there is a growing fear of the Common Core State Standards themselves.  Some groups fear that the sheer number of states that are committing to the CCSS is problematic while others are concerned with the ways states will assess these new standards.  As a veteran classroom teacher, I suggest three things in states adopting the CCSS: information, patience, and time.

Information – All educational stakeholders must clearly understand exactly what these standards are and even what they are not.  The Common Core State Standards are a comprehensive list of what students should know and be able to do, using 21st century skills.  These standards are not a curriculum guide of what to teach and when to teach it.

Patience- Educators across the country are diligently implementing curriculum that supports these rigorous standards, but are also learning as they go.  Just as new teachers must plan, implement, modify, alter and cycle through these modifications daily, educators everywhere are undergoing the same trials navigating the new standards.  Ultimately, educators will learn the best methods and practices to help students successfully meet the standards, but we have to be patient throughout this process.

Time- States, school districts, teachers and students may benefit the most if given time to work with these standards before jumping into the arena of assessing how well students are learning. Allowing all stakeholders to become more comfortable with these national standards before adding the high-stakes testing component would allow for more insight into their implementation through the sharing of successes and failures.  Besides, teachers will find effective methods of assessing student learning in their classrooms; they have done so successfully for decades before high-stakes, standardized testing.

Fear of the unknown sometimes prevents me from sleeping well the night before the first day of school, even in my twentieth year, yet I have learned to how to successfully prepare for school.  Similarly, the fear of the unknown with the Common Core State Standards should be driving states to educate stakeholders, exhibit patience, and offer time for successful implementation.

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  • JessicaCuthbertson

    Three Key Elements


    I couldn’t agree more! Indeed, patience, information, and time are key components to successful implementation of the CCSS. Having recently spoken in support of the standards in my home state (CO), it was clear that the opposition was not really opposed to the standards, they are opposed to a lack of information about what the standards mean for kids (and opposed to the high stakes testing and other reforms being “packaged” with the CCSS). 

    I think this indicates there is an even greater need and a real opportunity to “lead without leaving” the classroom. How do we best provide information to our parents and community, and better yet, get students sharing their learning and speaking in support of the standards? How do we truly bring the standards to life for those outside our classroom walls (knowing that patience and time are rare commodities)? And how do we as practitioners advocate for the time, space, and information we need to collectively “get good” at the CCSS?

    • Rob Kriete



      Thanks for your support here.  And, I agree that the need for teachers to lead from the classroom is only getting stronger.  To implement the CCSS effectively, school districts must find ways to allow teacher leaders to share their expertise while maintaining a presence in their classrooms for students.

  • bradclark

    A Caveat

    Information, Patience & Time are all necessary, to be sure, but it is also imperative that teachers are forced to confront the true depth of these standards.  Many teachers in our state, KY, are just now truly addressing the standards and we are three years in to implementation.  I fear for states that are phasing the standards in one year at a time.  The K-12 conversations and vertical alignment are essential to grappling with the standards.  To be successful on the CCSS, the entire education system of the state has to be engaged in the standards.  I worry for states that will actually be running two different education systems simultaneously.  I also understand everyone’s grievances with assessment, but the assessment is what has forced every teacher, despite experience, to reevaluate their instructional practices. 

    • Rob Kriete

      Great point, Brad.The Common

      Great point, Brad.The Common Core State Standards must be implemented with fidelity and without the confusion or “noise” from another layer of standards.  You have hit upon an unforeseen obstacle in many states as they had attempted to “tippy-toe” into the new CCSS standards as opposed to full implemenation.

  • ReneeMoore

    Need for PK-20 Discussions of CCSS

    Brad’s comments resonate with me on several levels. My colleagues at the community college are becoming more aware of the existence of CCSS as the K12 school districts in the seven rural counties we serve begin to implement them (all) this year. Some of the college faculty have started looking at the standards and asking, “Should we be incorporating those into what we teach here?” (Which begs the question, if these are standards aimed at getting kids college-ready, should we already be doing them? If we’re not, are the standards really properly aligned, or are we at the college level out of step?) 

    I feel we need more conversation across levels about what really are “college ready” — or better, “life-ready” learning and skills. The learning of our students along the continuum should be a matter of on-going professional dialogue among us. These conversations are particularly needed since the CCSS were developed pretty much without teacher input, at least initially. By having these peer-to-peer professional discussions within and across subject areas and grade levels, we can begin to move towards truly high level standards.. 

    • bradclark

      Higher Ed

      In KY, we are finding that the quality (sophistication of thinking) of the student has really shifted in a positive direction over the past three years. Close reading strategies, though far from new, have found a renewed level of importance in addressing the ELA standards.  

      We are seeing unprecedented numbers of non-GT kids enrolling in AP course work and being successful on the AP exams (ncluding .  My hope is that many educators will realize that AP is not GT servicing.  THAT would be huge.  

      I say all that to illustrate this:  the CCSS are changing the conversations of educators K-12 and based on Renee’s comment/concern, they will influence the expectations of higher ed as well.  The CCSS are polarizing; like them or not, everyone in education must react to them.  Perhaps the CCSS are shifting the paradigm in a negative way for some.  If that is the case, my hope is that someone will propose something new.  

      I am thankful that we are all in the field of education at such an interesting time.  We have not seen whole-sale changes like this since Dewey’s work or maybe the Space Race…so I think it is all kind of fun really.

      • Rob Kriete



        I agree that the Common Core State Standards are changing the conversations while raising expectations in many classrooms nationwide.  I also applaud your willingness to embrace the change and even invite those that oppose it to offer another option.  I also view the current educational climate as a radical, interesting time to teach historically.  I have seen education evolve from the isolation of teachers working independently to a much more collaborative, learning community approach and look forward to seeing the true implementation of national standards throughout our schools.


        • bradclark


          The CTQ is such a great place to have these conversations.  It is a wide PLC that is focused on the philosophy of education that undergirds our instructional approaches & practices and their impct on our students and the profession of education.  More mighty magnets of like minds need to be a part of CTQ.

  • SandyMerz

    No kidding about depth

    Looking at the standards as written and then looking at how they translate into actual questions is an eye-opener.  I took the 8th grade sample algebra test that Smarter Balance has on their website.  It had 25 questions so I figured 15 – 25 minutes.  More than an hour later, I finally finished.  I think I got them all right, and have to admit it was fun to be challenged.  But I’m strong at math and there were single questions that I could imagine it taking days to teach.  Regrettably, I could also imagine schools in which not a single student met the standards.  I actually think very few adults, absent lots of math, could pass either.

    • Rob Kriete

      Very interesting, Sandy. 

      Very interesting, Sandy.  What solution do you see for this dilemma?

  • bradclark

    KY Assessments

    Our assessments in grade schools are Pearson generated and they are ROWDY.  You better pull up the boot straps and get serious if you wanna be successful as a student.  

  • ValBrownEdu

    Thanks for your perspective

    Thanks for your perspective Rob!

  • ReneeMoore

    Rigor or Frustration?

    Brad and Sandy, 

    Will this sudden increase in rigor result in students feeling more challenged or more frustrated?  Especially those who are already in middle or high school being thrown into these assessments?  I’m trying to get a feel from my K12 colleagues here how they are shifting their work in the classroom based on the full implementation of the standards this year. We are keenly watching and thinking about how to help our older students make the transition from what they have been expected to do throughout their school careers thus far, to these new demands. Our dropout rate has been shrinking, but it is still precipitous, particularly at 9th grade. What are others noticing about the transition for older students?

    • bradclark


      Let me get a couple of thoughts out that are definitely not linear in progression:  The culture that a teacher creates is crucial.  Cognitive struggle = Challenge.  If a student struggles through every single second of every single day it will = frustration.  If a teacher designs lessons that engage the learner they will be willing to struggle.  

      Alright, so there is no quick response to the questions you pose because the answer will vary based on students’ previous learning experiences.  If students have never been asked to cognitively struggle and are unfamiliar with independent learning, then they will be frustrated.  If students have been taught that struggle and failure create perseverance and confidence, then they will embrace the challenge.  Maybe I am naive, but I think that furstration leads to accepting challenges and that the entire process is a good thing.  I want my students to struggle. I have learned the most from life when I have struggled.  When we struggle cognitively, we are forced to grow cognitively, and that type of growth is what I care about in my class.  

      I have recently led a lot of district- & state-wide discussions about the benefits of cognitive sturggle.  Along the way I have realized that, traditionally, the students that struggle cognitively every day are the lowest ability students.  Every day in an academic setting is intellectual struggle for those students.  So how have RTI and Special Ed teachers engaged their students in such a way that the students have developed a persevering spirit?  That might be a question worth asking of colleagues.

      The CCSS are designed to promote independent learners.  I think that every standard has certain thinking that it requires students to both demonstrate and master before the content, skills or concepts of the standard itself can ever be mastered.  To that end, I am very transparent with my students about the cognitive load that they must carry before, during and after each lesson.  We (the class and I) are going to set aside struggle time for students where it is expected that they are out of their confort zone.  My school has adopted Bulldog-Up time (we are the Bulldogs and it is time set aside where they are going to be pushed into challenging cognitive territory).  

      This struggle time is like cross training.  In the beginning, as struggle-up time is established, it is important to openly discuss what meta-cognitive processes they are going through so that they are self reflecting about how to persevere and cope with challenge.  If students are given the opportunity to “train” for struggle, the assessment will be less scary and students won’t “freeze up” because they know how to struggle-up.

      I know I am rambling a bit here but I want to add a side conversation:  I was talking to a state admin/consultant about the similarities between teachers and students in the Common Core Era.  If we are asking our students to grow and change and accept challenge, then we have to be willing to do the same (as do principals and superintendents).  A colleague of mine descirbed it as a fractal.  We mirror (or model) how to persevere through struggle for our students.  The CCSS will force all of us to grow professionally and this is, again, a good thing.  Leaners will be much more willing to accept challenge if we are transparent about the challenges of the CCSS from a teaching perspective and how we are all trying to solve the problem together (flipped classroom mentality).

      I hope that helps and does not muddy the situation for you.  Feel free to send me a message to my dashboard and I will give you my phone number.  We can talk it out if you need to do so,

  • Anna J.

    ELA for ELL’s

    The Common Core State Standards Initiative has provided clear, consistent expectations for student learning by grade-level and content-areas for schools across the United States. However, not all student are the same, and this disparity becomes even greater when discussing students who come from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. How do you envision the Common Core providing a “comprehensive list of what students should know and be able to do, using 21st century skills,” that still allows for student diversity of knowledge, skill and experience?

  • Rob Kriete



    I believe the CCSS allows for diversity of knowledge by focusing on application and higher order thinking.  However, specifically about ELL students, I do think modified standards for these students based on their language acquisition are necessary.  What would you recommend?

  • denapisaneschi

    Great points!


    Your post was very interesting.  I couldn’t agree more with the statement below:

    “Information – All educational stakeholders must clearly understand exactly what these standards are and even what they are not.  The Common Core State Standards are a comprehensive list of what students should know and be able to do, using 21st century skills.  These standards are not a curriculum guide of what to teach and when to teach it.”

    So many teachers are getting these common core standards confused with their curriculum guides.  Thanks for the right information!