Common Core State Standards: Towards a Cohesive Accountability System

Abadiano, Helen R., Turner, Jesse P., Valerie, Lynda M., New England Reading Association Journal

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are here and, as with any new initiatives, the Standards invite much discussion and debate as well as create opportunities for educational professionals, particularly teachers, to reflect on our own practices, concerns, and discontent. Since its introduction in 2010, there has been much ambivalence swirling around the CCSS. In an effort to maintain a rich, balanced, and healthy discussion around CCSS, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) released a statement to acknowledge that “We each bring to the table our own beliefs concerning such a document. Some of us acknowledge the importance of commonly held standards that could serve as high goals for all in this nation; others of us resist any standards that are not created by individual classroom teachers for their individual classrooms. And many of us fall somewhere along that continuum . . .” Hence, it is but fitting that this issue of the NERAJ provides a forum for professionals to share their perspective regarding the CCSS. It is our hope that the articles featured here will further your understanding, challenge your thinking, and strengthen your conviction regarding the Standards and their implication to teaching, learning, and assessment in classrooms.

Angela B. Peery’s “Reading for the Future: How the Common Core will Change Instruction” delves into the following questions: (1) What are the key features of the reading standards, and how are these key features commonly misinterpreted or understood at only a surface level? (2) How should the demands for independent, proficient reading of complex text change classroom instruction? (3) How can teachers pay more careful attention to close, analytic reading than ever before? (4) What are the classroom-level implications of the forthcoming Common Core assessments? Peery provides an in depth discussion on five significant topics: Common Core Reading Standards: The Basics, The Reading Standards: Key Features and Common Misunderstandings, How Classroom Instruction Must Change, Text Complexity and Close Reading in the Classroom, and Implications of the Next-Generation Assessments.

In “Vocabulary and the Common Core: Sounds Like Poetry to Me!” Nancy L. Witherell and Mary C. McMackin argue that using effective methodology in the classroom is key to student success, and with the rigor of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), teacher decisions that impact learning are extremely important. To illustrate, the article allows us to shadow Nancys implementation of a lesson that uses poetry to build vocabulary and also meet the Common Core standards for third grade. The lesson highlights some wonderful strengths in using the Common Core State Standards, most particularly the flexibility teachers can have to create lessons that meet the Standards. In addition, it shows how beautifully the integration of subject matter, which is intended by the Common Core, can be done.

Katherine Egan Cunningham and Grace Enriquez offer rich examples from classrooms and recommendations for primary grade teachers for “how to use purposefully selected picture book read-alouds as a means for meeting many of the reading standards set forth in the CCSS while engaging in topics of social justice.” In “Bridging Core Readiness with Social Justice through Social Justice Picture Books” Cunningham and Enriquez describe how first, second, and third grade teachers in four different schools engaged their students in topics of social justice through close reading of picture books. Further, they discuss the significance of social justice topics and read-alouds for students’ literacy learning, and provide teachers with a concrete framework for bridging the CCSS with teaching towards social justice.

In “Preparing Preservice Teachers to Develop Productive and Positive Relationships with Families through Family Literacy Nights,” Jodene Morrell and Susan Bennett-Armistead make an argument for Family Literacy Night (FLN) to become an integral part of every school’s literacy program. They discuss the importance of making connections between families and schools, and describe the ways in which their teacher education programs worked with their preservice teachers and elementary schools in effectively establishing FLN. Throughout the article the authors share written and oral reflections by their preservice teachers to demonstrate the value in providing future teachers with opportunities to engage in authentic interactions with families and consider effective planning and literacy pedagogy beyond the typical school day.

In “Yes, They Can! Urban Readers and Writers Achieve with Rigor” Jim Johnston shares the secret of his success in his urban fourth grade classroom. He discusses the importance of high expectations, building upon students’ interest and enthusiasm, creating opportunities for higher level thinking, and providing authentic support for student learning.

Jasmine Angela Robinson’s “Critical Approaches to Multicultural Children’s Literature in the Elementary Classroom: Challenging Pedagogies of Silence” answers the following research questions: (1) What understandings do the students acquire about themselves and others while engaging critically with multicultural children’s literature? (2) What are the experiences that allow children to respond critically and emotionally with multicultural texts? Robinson’s ethnographic study assumes a multicultural transformative and critical stance. She provides instances of students’ construction and deconstruction of meaning while engaging in multicultural readings as evidence that “multicultural texts allow students to reflect on social and cultural phenomenon, revealing their feelings of empathy, personal connections, and democratic values. . .” and that “pedagogies that silence children are ineffective because they are teacher dominated and often based on the teacher’s experiences; therefore, they can be prohibitive and undemocratic.”

Yanhui Pang’s “Graphic Organizers and Other Visual Strategies to Improve Young ELLs’ Reading Comprehension” emphasizes the importance of reading in developing ELLs’ English language proficiency, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. Pang describes many types of visual strategies that support ELLs’ reading comprehension and increase their language abilities in English to include bilingual picture books, books with visual cues, and graphic organizers.

In keeping with the theme of this issue, our departmental columns begin with the Review of Professional Books: “Looking Closely at the Common Core State Standards” by Guest Department Editors Terrell A. Young and Barbara A. Ward with contributions from Deborah Thompson, Janet Hill, Darcy H. Bradley, Daniel Weinstein, Rachel L. Wadham, and Nancy L. Hadaway. The column presents ten professional books that are excellent resources about the Common Core and accountability. The titles include Notice & Note: Strategies for Close Reading (Beers 6c Probst, 2012), How to Teach Thinking Skills with the Common Core (Bellanca, Fogarty, Oc Pete, 2012), Kid-tested Writing Lessons for Grades 3-6: Daily Practices that Support the Common Core State Standards (Blauman, 2012), Writer’s Workshop for the Common Core: A Step-by-Step Guide (Combs, 2012), Text Complexity: Raising Rigor in Reading (Fisher, Frey, Oc Lapp, 2012), The Common Core: Teaching K-5 Students to Meet the Reading Standards (McLaughlin Oc Overturf, 2013), Teaching with the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts, PreK-2 (Morrow, Wixon, Oc Shanahan (Eds.), 2013), Something in Common: The Common Core Standards and the Next Chapter in American Education (Rothman, 2011), Making Language Matter: Teaching Resources for Meeting the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards in Grades 9-12 (Vause Oc Amberg, 2012), and Integrating Young Adult Literature Through the Common Core Standards (Wadham Oc Ostenson, 2013).

Barbara A. Ward and Terrell A. Young also serve as Guest Department Editors of BookBeat: “Looking at Informational Trade Books Through a Common Core Lens.” In this column, they review several exemplary informational titles that teachers will want to add to their own classroom collection. The authors remind us that “narrative fiction requires students to understand the basic story grammar while understanding nonnarrative nonfiction requires topical schema, vocabulary, and knowledge of expository text structures.”

In Review of Research in the Classroom: “The Universe is on the Side of Justice,” Department Editor Diane Kern asserts that “the current ways the CCSS are being implemented in many school districts nationwide are flawed.” She examines “the wisdom of teachers, researchers, philosophers, and students who know that teachers and students can be and should be actively engaged agents of change in public education in the United States.”

Guest Department Co-Editor Michelle Cosmah and Department Editor Paula Saine argue that “the transformation of integrating the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and technology will be most effective if high quality professional development is tailored specifically to correspond with developmentally appropriate levels of teacher competence.” In Computers in the Classroom: “Targeting Digital Technologies in Common Core Standards: A Framework for Professional Development,” Cosmah and Saine address teachers’ concerns about implementing the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts to meet the needs of the digital learners. The column provides a table that outlines the specific CCSS for ELA and technology standards integration.

Finally, in this issue wè share with you a few highlights at the 2012 NERA 64th Annual Conference: Genuine Reading and Writing = Competent Readers and Writers! We also remind our readers to SAVE THE DATE for the NERA 65th Annual Conference: Moving Forward: Inspiring Learners Beyond Measure on September 20-21, 2013 at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, Portland, Maine. For information go to .


[Author Affiliation]

Helen R. Abadiano

Jesse P. Turner

Lynda M. Valerie

Central Connecticut State University, Conneticut
Publication information: Article title: Common Core State Standards: Towards a Cohesive Accountability System. Contributors: Abadiano, Helen R. – Author, Turner, Jesse P. – Author, Valerie, Lynda M. – Author. Journal title: New England Reading Association Journal. Volume: 48. Issue: 2 Publication date: January 1, 2013. Page number: III+. © New England Reading Association 2009.


Misconceptions about Common Core

Educators who think the Common Core State Standards are more of the same should spend more time studying the standards, say Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins in a new paper. “Moving from standards to curriculum requires careful reading and thoughtful interpretation to avoid the predictable misunderstandings, while building the curriculum backward from worthy tasks offers the pathway to the performances envisioned by the Common Core,” the authors write.

They suggest five big ideas about how educators can effectively use the Common Core to design a coherent curriculum and assessment system for realizing their promise.

* Big Idea 1: The Common Core State Standards have new emphases and require a careful reading. Trying to retrofit the standards into existing teaching and testing practices will undermine the standards. School leaders need to convene staff and carefully read the “front matter” with this essential question in mind: What are the new distinctions in these standards, and what do they mean for our practice?

* Big Idea 2: Standards are not curriculum the Common Core is about the outcomes that students should achieve. Nothing in the Common Core dictates how teachers should teach.

* Big Idea 3: Educators must “unpack” the standards. McTighe and Wiggins recommend that educators read the standards with these categories in mind:

(a) Long-term transfer goals. What do we want students to be able to do when they confront new and sometimes complex problems in and outside school?

(b) Overarching understandings and essential questions. What are the important themes that students will encounter across the grades and under a variety of topics? What questions must students ask in order for them to make meaning from what they are learning and to deepen their learning?

(c) Cornerstone tasks. What tasks should be embedded in the curriculum so that students apply their knowledge and skills in authentic and relevant contexts, using creativity, technology, and teamwork?

* Big Idea 4: A coherent curriculum is mapped backward from desired performances “The first question for curriculum writers is not: What will we teach, and when should we teach it? Rather the initial question for curriculum development must be goal focused: Having learned key content, what will students be able to do with it?” The new standards aren’t about coverage or scope and sequence but about “autonomous transfer,” which “requires a deliberate and transparent plan for helping the student rely less and less on teacher hand-holding and scaffolds.”

* Big Idea 5: The standards come to life through assessments. The standards shouldn’t be tested one by one; rather, rich, complex performance tasks can assess a number of standards. These are the kinds of assessments being designed by PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

Source: McTighe, J. & Wiggins, G. (2012, September). From Common Core standards to curriculum: Five big ideas.

A notebook of short but worthy items
Publication information: Article title: Misconceptions about Common Core. Contributors: Not available. Journal title: Phi Delta Kappan. Volume: 94. Issue: 4 Publication date: December 2012. Page number: 6. © 1999 Phi Delta Kappa, Inc.



Elections, Comets and Common Core Standards

Kern, Diane, New England Reading Association Journal

“Like comets, elections, Olympics,and the moon, education policy ideas tend to come and go in cycles.”(Finn, Petrilli, &Winkler, 2009, p. 5)

As I sat down to write this review of research in the classroom, each of the New England states, except Maine, had agreed to adopt the Common Core Standards. You may know the Common Core State Standards Initiative is an effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to establish the use of national standards in each state. Trying to be open to this change, I still skeptically wondered if the Common Core Standards movement was just another of the education policy ideas referred to in this opening quote. Is the metaphorical pendulum swinging once again toward education reform for the same reasons it had after Sputnik in the 1950s and again in the 1980s as noted in the A Nation at Risk (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983) report? In this column, I share my findings on research related to national standards, discuss the history of the U.S. Common Core Standards movement, and also examine the views of several professional associations to try to answer questions about the Common Core Standards to inform our classroom practice.

Tracing the history of the Common Core Standards

In this section, we will examine the history of the Common Core Standards by reviewing a paper presented by Michael Watt at the conference of the Australian Curriculum Studies Association in Australia (2009). Through his systematic review of the literature, Watt found that national academic standards for public school K-12 education were first established in the United States in response to President George H. W. Bush’s Charlottesville Education Summit held in September 1989 (Vinovskis, 1999). This education policy trend had been years in the making as we see from this tracing of educational policy history:

In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower called for “national goals” in education, including “standards.” A decade later, President Richard M. Nixon called “the fear of ‘national standards'” one of the “bugaboos of education.” In 1983, President Ronald W. Reagan accepted from his first education secretary A Nation at Risk, which sounded an alarm about the parlous condition of U.S. academic standards and arguably catalyzed twenty-five years of standards-based reform. In 1988, with the collaboration of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, President Reagan presided over the reinvention of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), complete with state-by-state comparisons of student achievement and what became known as “achievement levels” by which NAEP data are now reported, a close relative of national standards (Carmichael, Wilson, Finn, Winkler, & Palmieri, 2009, p. 4).

Now, back to 1989 when the U.S. first attempted to establish national standards. Policymakers convened discipline-specific expert groups to develop national standards comprised of content, performance and opportunity-to-learn standards (National Education Goals Panel, 1993). In March 1994, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, passed by the Clinton Administration, required state education departments to use the national standards as blueprints to develop and to align state standards with state assessments. Next came the Improving America’s School Act, passed by the Clinton Administration in October 1994, which required states to develop content and performance standards for mathematics and reading by the 19971998 school year, and state assessments aligned to these standards by the 2000-2001 school year. Goals 2000 grants were available to states that developed and implemented comprehensive school reform plans and established rigorous state standards. As one can see, up to this point states were left to establish and implement their own standards, which varied from state to state.

In December 2001, the George W. Bush administration enacted the No Child Left Behind Act, which required states to regularly conduct standardized measurements of students’ achievement in mathematics and reading. Standardized measures of students’ science achievement were also required by 2007-2008. Federal grants to states were used once again to provide an incentive to states to demonstrate the improvement of student achievement. The No Child Left Behind Act also required each state to establish a definition of adequate yearly progress (AYP), based on a set of criteria, to use each year to determine the achievement of each school district and school.

Interestingly, because each state was permitted to set levels of student achievement, the variation of standards and achievement expectations increased, which caused concern among both conservative and progressive policymakers (Watt, 2009). In turn, this variation among states may have led directly to the shift in 2004 in education policy making towards accepting the notion of national standards and assessments (Olson, 2005).

In summary, elections have had a great affect on the move toward national standards. The George H. W Bush administration initiated the notion of U.S. national academic standards in 1989; the Clinton administration’s education policymaking continued the pendulum’s swing toward national standards; then the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind Act caused the pendulum to swing so far away from national consensus that by 2004 both conservatives and progressives agreed to examine national standards as a way to improve student achievement in Americas schools.

Why national standards?

In this next section, we’ll take a closer look at the current call for national education standards by examining U.S. House testimony and national standards at an international level to better understand the reasons why the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) have advanced the Common Core Standards. First let’s read the U.S. House testimony of Bill Ritter, Jr., Governor of Colorado and Chair, Education, Early Childhood and Workforce Committee National Governors Association. He states:

Our economy is now truly global, and the competitiveness of our education system must reflect this. To maintain America’s competitive edge, all of our students need to be well-prepared and ready to compete not only with their American peers, but also with students from around the world. The state-led development of common core state standards is a critical first step to bring about real and meaningful transformation of state education systems to benefit all students (Ritter, 2009, p. 1).

As my professional experience and instinct anticipated, the pendulum swing toward national standards is grounded, at least in part, on the desire for American students to compete in a global marketplace and to help the United States to continue its place as a foremost world leader, as we saw during the Cold War and the Sputnik era. Ritter (2009) encourages governors and other policymakers to examine the performance of U.S. 15 year-olds compared to the achievement of 15year-olds in other countries, which are presented in a report entitled Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education (Jerald, 2008). In 2006, U.S. students were ranked 25th in mathematics achievement and 21st in science achievement. In 2003, U.S. students were ranked 15th in reading achievement and 24th in problem solving. Finland was ranked #1 in mathematics, science and reading achievement, with countries such as Korea, Japan, and Canada much higher ranked than the U.S. These statistics are meant to elicit a call for action (Jerald, 2008) and to raise concern that America is slipping in his position as a world power.

These staggering statistics lead us to an examination of International Lessons about National Standards (Schmidt, Houang, & Shakrani, 2009), a 72page report written by respected education experts from Michigan State University and supported with funding from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which has long favored national standards. The report sought to answer this central question: “As America contemplates a transition to national standards and tests, what lessons can be gleaned from the experience of our global peers, rivals, and allies?” (Finn, Petrilli & Winkler, 2009, p. 5). Below is a summary of the six key findings:

1. It’s not true that national standards portend loss of local control.

2. An independent, quasi-governmental institution is needed to oversee the development of national standards and assessment and produce reports for the nation.

3. The federal government should encourage and provide resources for the standardssetting process but shouldn’t meddle inappropriately.

4. We ought first to develop coherent, focused, rigorous standards for English, math, and science.

5. National assessments (including open-ended questions) should be administered every other calendar year in grades 4, 8, and 12.

6. Hold students, teachers and schools accountable for performance (Schmidt, Huoang, Oc Shakrani, 2009, p.9).

The United States appears to be poised to use these six “stars” to navigate us toward national standardsbased education reform. And, like a comet in the summer of 2010, 49 states have agreed to adopt common core standards for English, math, and science. All of us are already experiencing “star #6” – hold students, teachers and schools accountable for performance. One can only hope that our policymakers will heed “star #3” – encourage and provide resources to school without meddling inappropriately – and diminish annual testing of most grade levels as “star #5” suggests. Get out your telescope, because the comet show should be magnificent these next few years!

Over the course of my career in education, I have seen the pendulum swing far left, far right and sometimes briefly hover in the middle. Whenever the swing goes far to one side, I always seek the wisdom of my professional associations to guide my thinkng, especially on complex and important issues such as this. In this next section, we’ll consider the views of the International Reading Association, Kappa Delta Pi, and the American Federation of Teachers.

Guarded optimism

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) used the expression “guarded optimism” in the title of a recent magazine article (2010, September), and I close this review of research in the classroom with this sentiment. The AFT concludes that the current proposed common core standards are “usually an improvement on state standards now in place” (p. 18). They also assert that follow-through on curriculum and professional development is imperative.

The academic editor of the Kappa Delta Pi Record, Christopher H. Tienken, marveled at the speed at which 49 states adopted the common core standards and the way discussion moved immediately to how to implement them (2010). He suggests we take time to more carefully examine why we should implement the Common Core Standards. You’ll recall that the rationale provided by Governor Ritter and policymakers – the staggering statistics on 15 year-olds’ achievement in math, science, English and problem solving and the call to action to reform education so our students and our country can prosper in the global marketplace. Tienken (2010) wondered about the claim that our children are lagging behind their international peers. “Understanding international test results are not as cut-and-dried as the NGA and CCSSO would have use believe” (p. 15). Factors such as students’ opportunity to learn to learn the material on the test, selective sampling by countries, poverty levels of the students sampled and several other factors out of the control of schools affect the way we should interpret results. He then shares compelling information on the variation of students’ opportunity to learn the material on the tests and other threats to the validity of these international rankings, such as 23% of the questions on an international mathematics test presumes students have already taken calculus; however, “most U.S. students do not take calculus – in part because of federal education policies enacted following Sputnik that reduced the mathematics requirements” (p.15). Tienken (2010) makes a strong argument that “the facts just do not support the rhetoric in the case of the Common Core State Standards and should prompt all of us to ask why” (p. 17).

The International Reading Association’s position on the draft College and Career Ready Standards (Au, 2009), which have come to be known as the Common Core Standards, includes four key points that echo the concerns raised by AFT and Kappa Delta Pi Record’s academic editor:

1. Set standards high enough to inspire and reflect our nation’s ambitions for students’ achievement.

2. Provide a coherent conceptual framework, beyond policy documents, to give the work credibility.

3. Establish the research base for the standards.

4. Build opportunities for input from teachers.

Yes, we need to be focused on inspiring our students to read, rather than setting standards for minimum proficiency! Of course, we should be asking for the conceptual and research base and not be persuaded to action based only on policy documents (IRA, 2009) and “voodoo economics” (Tienken, 2010, p. 17). Teachers have certainly been conspicuously absent from the conversation. Once again, I realize how important it is to be a member of a professional association. These are the stars that will guide my classroom practice and views on the Common Core Standards. In addition to the metaphorical telescope I suggested we use to watch the comet-like moves of policymakers, I hope you’ll also get out your binoculars to ensure that the Common Core Standards are clearly in view and what’s best for our students.



American Federation of Teachers. (2010, September). Guarded optimism greets Common Core State Standards. American Teacher, 95(1). 18.

Au, K. (2009, November 12). International Reading Association response to draft College and Career Ready Standards. Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Carmichael, S.B., Wilson, W.S., Martino, G., Finn, C. E., Jr., Porter-Magee, K., & Winkler, A.M. (2010, March). Review of the draft K-12 Common Core Standards. Thomas B. Fordham Institute: Washington, D.C.

Finn, C.E., Jr., Petrilli, M.J., & Winkler, A.M. (2009, August), Foreword. In W.H. Schmidt, R. Houang, & S. Shakrani. International lessons about national standards. Thomas B. Fordham Institute: Washington, D.C., 5.

Jerald, C.J. (2008). Benchmarking for success: Ensuring U.S. students receive a world-class education: A report of the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and Achieve, Inc. National Governors Association: Washington, D.C.

National Commission on Excellence in Education (1983). A nation at risk : The imperative for educational reform :A report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education, United States Department of Education by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. The Commission : [Supt. of Docs., U.S. G.P.O. distributor], Washington, D.C.

National Education Goals Panel. (1993). Promises to keep: Creating high standards for American students. Washington, D.C: National Education Goals Panel.

Olson, L. (2005). Nationwide standards eyed anew. Education Week, 25(14), 1, 24.

Ritter, B., Jr. (2009, December 8). Update on the Common Core State Standards Initiative: Testimony submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives, Education and Labor Committee. Washington, D.C.

Schmidt, W.H., Houang, R., & Shakrani, S. (2009, August). International lessons about national standards. Thomas B. Fordham Institute: Washington, D.C.

Tienken, C.H. (2010, Fall). Common Core State Standards: I wonder? Kappa Delta Pi Record, 14-17.

Vinovskis, M. A. (1999). The road to Charlottesville: The 1989 education summit. Washington, DC: National Education Goals Panel.

Watt, M. (2009, October). The movement for national academic standards: A comparison of the Common Core State Standards Initiative in the USA and the National Curriculum in Australia. Paper presented at the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, Hotel Realm, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia.

[Author Affiliation]

Diane Kern

University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island

[Author Affiliation]

DIANE KERN is Assistant Professor in the School of Education at the University of Rhode Island. She teaches English language arts methods for pre-service and in-service teachers in PK-12 classrooms. She was a public school teacher for 14 years in urban, suburban and rural districts. Currently she is Co-chair of the International Reading Association’s (IRA) Professional Standards and Ethics Committee and was a lead writer of the IRA’s Standards for Reading Professionals-Revised 2010. Her research interests include comprehension strategy instruction, classroom practices for struggling readers, and improving teacher education.
Publication information: Article title: Elections, Comets and Common Core Standards. Contributors: Kern, Diane – Author. Journal title: New England Reading Association Journal. Volume: 46. Issue: 2 Publication date: January 1, 2011. Page number: 89+. © New England Reading Association 2009.