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Common Core Interview with Dr. Tracey Severns, Chief Academic Officer

What is the difference between the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and what we have now? Why do we need to change?
For years, many people complained that NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards were an "inch deep and a mile wide."  They were very broad in their application and did not provide the opportunity to focus on critical outcomes like the ability to read, write and solve problems at a high level of complexity. The internationally benchmarked CCSS provide a series of challenging learning outcomes for K – 12th grade, intended to graduate all students college and career ready.  In addition to mathematics and English language arts, the Common Core State Standards include literacy standards in science, social studies and technical subjects.

What is the timeline for transition to the CCSS?
The CCSS were adopted by NJ in June of 2010.  Following adoption, districts were expected to align their standards, instruction and assessment to the new standards.  A total of forty-six states, and DC, have now adopted the standards. 

How will testing work with the CCSS?
In the spring, the NJ ASK assessments will be aligned to the CCSS in grades 3 – 8 in ELA, and 3 – 5 Math.  The following spring (2014), NJ ASK will fully be aligned to the CCSS.  In school year 2014 – 15, NJ will see a full shift to the new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) assessments.  See www.parcconline.org for more information.

How can parents and families best prepare for the transition? How can they know what their child is expected to learn at each grade level?
Parents/guardians can best support their children by familiarizing themselves with resources available through organizations like NJPTA, Council for Great City Schools and others [see resources provided at end of interview].  These parent resources provide common core "look fors."  If I'm a parent, I can see what my child is being asked to do and determine whether it is in line with their respective grade level target. 
The common core places a great deal of emphasis on students' ability to produce certain outcomes independently and on-demand.  One of the things parents can do to support this is provide students opportunities to read and complete challenging tasks on their own.  Rather than becoming directly involved in "doing the work" parents are encouraged to give less direction and use more questions – What did the directions ask you to do?  What have you tried so far? What do you think you should do next?

How can parents partner with their child's teacher to ensure they are mastering the standards?
Parents/guardians can start by reviewing the work their child brings home and determining whether it is aligned to the grade level expectations for their child.  If it isn't, at a parent conference or back-to-school night, talk with the teacher to find out where they're going next.  Ask how the work being done in the classroom and for homework supports the expectations for their child's grade level.  In addition, ask how they can support the child at home.  For example, should their child be reading more?  The end goal is to be able to structure home study time for students to practice and apply what they're doing in school.

What if parents don't feel that their teacher is teaching to the CCSS? 
The best course of action is to have an open dialogue with the teacher.  Ask the teacher about how the work being done in class and at home is being aligned to the standards.  If parents aren't getting enough information, they may wish to speak to the principal or a district supervisor of curriculum.

It's very important to remember that the transition to CCSS is challenging.  We all have to be patient and persistent in moving toward the place where we are fully implementing CCSS in classrooms.  Across the state, teachers are working diligently to understand CCSS and what they should look like in the classroom.  In addition, district and building leaders are working to select and provide resources to get us there.  Everyone is working hard to move toward these standards and prepare students to achieve the outcomes of the standards.

What are some good resources out there for parents to understand more?