Common Core State Standards Initiative

Common Core State Standards Initiative

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a U.S. education initiative that seeks to bring diverse state curricula into alignment with each other by following the principles of standards-based education reform. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). The past twenty years in the U.S. have also been termed the "Accountability Movement," as states are being held to mandatory tests of student achievement, which are expected to demonstrate a common core of knowledge that all citizens should have to be successful in this country.[1] As part of this overarching education reform movement, the nation’s governors and corporate leaders founded Achieve, Inc. in 1996 as a bi-partisan organization to raise academic standards, graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability in all 50 states.[2] The initial motivation for the development of the Common Core State Standards was part of the American Diploma Project (ADP).[3]

A report titled, “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts,” from 2004 found that both employers and colleges are demanding more of high school graduates than in the past.[4] According to Achieve, Inc., “current high-school exit expectations fall well short of [employer and college] demands.”[5] The report explains that the major problem currently facing the American school system is that, high school graduates were not provided with the skills and knowledge they needed to succeed.[6] A high school diploma in the U.S. was and continues to be a “broken-promise [which is supposed to] reflect adequate preparation for the intellectual demands of adult life, [but] in reality it falls far short of this common sense goal,” (page 1). The report continues that the diploma itself lost its value because graduates could not compete successfully beyond high school.[7] This report suggested that the solution to combat this problem is a common set of rigorous standards.

Announced on June 1, 2009,[8] the initiative's stated purpose is to "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them."[9] Additionally, "The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers," which will place American students in a position in which they can compete in a global economy.[10] Forty-eight of the fifty states in the United States are members of the initiative.

Standards were released for mathematics and English language arts on June 2, 2010, with a majority of states adopting the standards in the subsequent months. (See below for current status.) States were given an incentive to adopt the Common Core Standards through the possibility of competitive federal Race to the Top grants. President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top competitive grants on July 24, 2009 as a motivator for education reform.[11] To be eligible, states had to adopt "internationally benchmarked standards and assessments that prepare students for success in college and the work place." [12] This meant that in order for a state to be eligible for these grants, the states had to adopt the Common Core State Standards or a similar career and college readiness curriculum. The competition for these grants provided a major push for states to adopt the standards.[13] The adoption dates for all states that chose to adopt the Common Core State Standards Initiative took place within the two years following this announcement.[14] The common standards are funded by the governors and state schools chiefs, with additional support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and others.[15] States are planning to implement this initiative by 2015[16] by basing at least 85% of their state curricula on the Standards.



In 2010, Standards were released for English language arts and mathematics. Standards have not yet been developed for science or social studies.

English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

The stated goal of the English & Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects standards [17] is to ensure that students are college and career ready in literacy no later than the end of high school (page 3). There are five key components to the standards for English and Language Arts: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, Language, and Media and Technology. [18] The essential components and breakdown of each of these key points within the standards is as follows:


  • As students advance through each grade, there is an increased level of complexity to what students are expected to read and there is also a progressive development of reading comprehension so that students can gain more from what they read.[18]
  • There is no reading list to accompany the reading standards. Instead, students are simply expected to read a range of classic and contemporary literature as well as challenging informative texts from an array of subjects. This is so that students can acquire new knowledge, insights, and consider varying perspectives as they read. Teachers, school districts, and states are expected to decide on the appropriate curriculum, but sample texts are included to help teachers, students, and parents prepare for the year ahead.[18]
  • There is some critical content for all students - classic myths and stories from around the world, foundational U.S. documents, seminal works of American literature, and the writings of Shakespeare - but the rest is left up to the states and the districts.[18]


  • The driving force of the writing standards is logical arguments based on claims, solid reasoning, and relevant evidence. The writing also includes opinion writing even within the K – 5 standards.[18]
  • Short, focused research projects, similar to the kind of projects students will face in their careers as well as long term, in depth research is another important piece of the writing standards. This is because written analysis and the presentation of significant findings is critical to career and college readiness.[18]
  • The standards also include annotated samples of student writing to help determine performance levels in writing arguments, explanatory texts, and narratives across the grades.[18]

Speaking and Listening

  • Although reading and writing are the expected components of an ELA curriculum, standards are written so that students gain, evaluate, and present complex information, ideas, and evidence specifically through listening and speaking.[18]
  • There is also an emphasis on academic discussion in one-on-one, small-group, and whole-class settings, which can take place as formal presentations as well as informal discussions during student collaboration.[18]


  • Vocabulary instruction in the standards takes place through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading so that students can determine word meanings and can expand their use of words and phrases.[18]
  • The standards expect students to use formal English in their writing and speaking, but also recognize that colleges and 21st century careers will require students to make wise, skilled decisions about how to express themselves through language in a variety of contexts.[18]
  • Vocabulary and conventions are their own strand because these skills extend across reading, writing, speaking and listening.[18]

Media and Technology

  • Since media and technology are intertwined into every students life and in school in the 21st century, skills related to media use, which includes the analysis and production of various forms of media, are also included in these standards.[18]

Preliminary "example" works to be studied by students include works by Ovid, Atul Gawande, Voltaire, Shakespeare, Turgenev, Poe, Robert Frost, Yeats, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amy Tan, and Julia Alvarez.[16]

Cursive and keyboarding

The standards do not mandate the teaching of cursive handwriting, although states are free either to add a cursive requirement or to permit individual school districts to require it. The standards include instruction in keyboarding.[19]


The stated goal of the mathematics Standards[20] is to achieve greater focus and coherence in the curriculum (page 3). This is largely in response to the criticism that American mathematics curricula are "a mile wide and an inch deep".

The mathematics Standards include Standards for Mathematical Practice and Standards for Mathematical Content.

Mathematical practice

The Standards mandate that eight principles of mathematical practice be taught:

  1. Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.
  2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  3. Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.
  4. Model with mathematics.
  5. Use appropriate tools strategically.
  6. Attend to precision.
  7. Look for and make use of structure.
  8. Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

The practices are adapted from the five process standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the five strands of proficiency in the National Research Council’s Adding It Up report.[21] These practices are to be taught in every grade from kindergarten to twelfth grade. Details of how these practices are to be connected to each grade level's mathematics content are left to local implementation of the Standards.

As an example of mathematical practice, here is the full description of the sixth practice:

6 Attend to precision.

Mathematically proficient students try to communicate precisely to others. They try to use clear definitions in discussion with others and in their own reasoning. They state the meaning of the symbols they choose, including using the equal sign consistently and appropriately. They are careful about specifying units of measure, and labeling axes to clarify the correspondence with quantities in a problem. They calculate accurately and efficiently, express numerical answers with a degree of precision appropriate for the problem context. In the elementary grades, students give carefully formulated explanations to each other. By the time they reach high school they have learned to examine claims and make explicit use of definitions.

Mathematical content

The Standards lay out the mathematics content that should be learned at each grade level. The Standards do not dictate any particular pedagogy or what order topics should be taught within a particular grade level. Mathematical content is organized in a number of domains. At each grade level there are several standards for each domain, organized into clusters of related standards. (See examples below.)

There are four main domains to be taught from kindergarten (age 5-6) to fifth grade (age 10-11):

  • Operations and algebraic thinking;
  • Number and operations in base 10;
  • Measurement and data;
  • Geometry.

In kindergarten, children also learn about counting and cardinality. In Grades 3 to 5, students learn about fractions.

In Grades 6 through 8 the four main domains students study are:

  • The number system;
  • Expressions and equations;
  • Geometry;
  • Statistics and probability.

In Grades 6 and 7 students also study ratios and proportional relationships. In Grade 8 students begin studying functions.

In addition to detailed standards (of which there are 21 to 28 for each grade from kindergarten to eighth grade), the Standards also list a few critical areas that should be the focus at each grade level. (See examples below.)

In high school (Grades 9 to 12), the Standards do not specify which content is to be taught at each grade level. Up to Grade 8, the curriculum is integrated; students study four or five different mathematical domains every year. The Standards do not dictate whether the curriculum should continue to be integrated in high school with study of several domains each year (as is done in other countries, as well as New York and Georgia), or whether the curriculum should be separated out into separate year-long algebra and geometry courses (as has been the tradition in most U.S. states). An appendix[22] to the Standards describes four possible pathways for covering high school content (two traditional and two integrated), but states are free to organize the content any way they want.

There are six conceptual categories of content to be covered at the high school level:

Some topics in each category are indicated only for students intending to take more advanced, optional courses such as calculus, advanced statistics or discrete mathematics. Even if the traditional sequence is adopted, functions and modeling are to be integrated across the curriculum, not taught as separate courses. In fact, modeling is also a Mathematical Practice (see above), and is meant to be integrated across the entire curriculum beginning in kindergarten. The modeling category does not have its own standards; instead, high school standards in other categories which are intended to be considered part of the modeling category are indicated in the Standards with a star symbol.

Each of the six high school categories includes a number of domains. For example, the "number and quantity" category contains four domains: the real number system; quantities; the complex number system; and vector and matrix quantities. The "vector and matrix quantities" domain is reserved for advanced students, as are some of the standards in "the complex number system".

Examples of mathematical content

Second grade example: In the second grade there are 26 standards in four domains. The four critical areas of focus for second grade are (1) extending understanding of base-ten notation; (2) building fluency with addition and subtraction; (3) using standard units of measure; and (4) describing and analyzing shapes. Below are the second grade standards for the domain of "operations and algebraic thinking" (Domain 2.OA). This second grade domain contains four standards, organized into three clusters:

Represent and solve problems involving addition and subtraction.
1. Use addition and subtraction within 100 to solve one- and two-step word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.
Add and subtract within 20.
2. Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies. By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.
Work with equal groups of objects to gain foundations for multiplication.
3. Determine whether a group of objects (up to 20) has an odd or even number of members, e.g., by pairing objects or counting them by 2s; write an equation to express an even number as a sum of two equal addends.
4. Use addition to find the total number of objects arranged in rectangular arrays with up to 5 rows and up to 5 columns; write an equation to express the total as a sum of equal addends.

Domain example: As an example of the development of a domain across several grades, here are the clusters for learning fractions (Domain NF, which stands for "Number and Operations—Fractions") in Grades 3 through 6. Each cluster contains several standards (not listed here):

Grade 3:
  • Develop an understanding of fractions as numbers.
Grade 4:
  • Extend understanding of fraction equivalence and ordering.
  • Build fractions from unit fractions by applying and extending previous understandings of operations on whole numbers.
  • Understand decimal notation for fractions, and compare decimal fractions.
Grade 5:
  • Use equivalent fractions as a strategy to add and subtract fractions.
  • Apply and extend previous understandings of multiplication and division to multiply and divide fractions.
In Grade 6, there is no longer a "number and operations—fractions" domain, but students learn to divide fractions by fractions in the number system domain.

High school example: As an example of a high school category, here are the domains and clusters for algebra. There are four algebra domains (in bold below), each of which is broken down into as many as four clusters (bullet points below). Each cluster contains one to five detailed standards (not listed here). Starred standards, such as the Creating Equations domain (A-CED), are also intended to be part of the modeling category.

Seeing Structure in Expressions (A-SSE)
  • Interpret the structure of expressions
  • Write expressions in equivalent forms to solve problems
Arithmetic with Polynomials and Rational Functions (A-APR)
  • Perform arithmetic operations on polynomials
  • Understand the relationship between zeros and factors of polynomials
  • Use polynomial identities to solve problems
  • Rewrite rational expressions
Creating Equations.★ (A-CED)
  • Create equations that describe numbers or relationships
Reasoning with Equations and Inequalities (A-REI)
  • Understand solving equations as a process of reasoning and explain the reasoning
  • Solve equations and inequalities in one variable
  • Solve systems of equations
  • Represent and solve equations and inequalities graphically

As an example of detailed high school standards, the first cluster above is broken down into two standards as follows:

Interpret the structure of expressions
1. Interpret expressions that represent a quantity in terms of its context.★
a. Interpret parts of an expression, such as terms, factors, and coefficients.
b. Interpret complicated expressions by viewing one or more of their parts as a single entity. For example, interpret P(1+r)n as the product of P and a factor not depending on P.
2. Use the structure of an expression to identify ways to rewrite it. For example, see x4y4 as (x2)2 – (y2)2, thus recognizing it as a difference of squares that can be factored as (x2y2)(x2 + y2).

Different standards, by state

States have individual variations on implementing the standards.


  • Emphasize basic arithmetic, fractions in elementary school. Focus on memorization instead of reliance on calculators.
  • An Algebra I capability is perceived for elementary school graduates; Algebra II for high school graduates.
  • Improve difficulty level of books being read. Less emphasis on how students "feel" about a book and more on analyzing content.
  • Testing by computer is planned with results available almost "instantly."[16]


Critics question forcing a rigid template on schools already coping with other initiatives like No Child Left Behind. For some states, this will be the third (or more) major change over the past 16 years.[16]

Some critics also question whether there is a demand for creating state standards to begin with. According to the NGA and the CCSSO one motivating factor is the U.S.’s ranking on international test results, however, there does not seem to be a relationship between our low score on these tests and our economic ranking.[23] The United States have ranked 1st or 2nd on the World Economic Forum since 1998 despite scoring near the bottom on the International Mathematics and Science Studies for the past 50 years.[24]

In June 2011, the Voice of America Special English reported on the common core standards on its weekly Education Report for people learning American English. Some commentators criticized the idea that "one size fits all." [25][26]

Adoption of Common Core Standards by states

Below is the adoption status of the Common Core Standards as of September 3, 2011[27]. To view specific dates of adoption and projected implementation years for each state visit this Google Map of the Common Core State Standards Initiative and click on each state's place holder.

State Adoption stance
Alabama Formally adopted
Alaska Non-member
Arizona Formally adopted
Arkansas Formally adopted
California Formally adopted
Colorado Formally adopted
Connecticut Formally adopted
Delaware Formally adopted
District of Columbia Formally adopted
Florida Formally adopted
Georgia Formally adopted
Hawaii Formally adopted
Idaho Formally adopted
Illinois Formally adopted
Indiana Formally adopted
Iowa Formally adopted
Kansas Formally adopted
Kentucky Formally adopted
Louisiana Formally adopted
Maine Formally adopted
Maryland Formally endorsed
Massachusetts Formally adopted
Michigan Formally adopted
Minnesota Initiative member (but not yet adopted)
Mississippi Formally adopted
Missouri Formally adopted
Montana Formally adopted
Nebraska Initiative member (but not yet adopted)
Nevada Formally adopted
New Hampshire Formally adopted
New Jersey Formally adopted
New Mexico Formally adopted
New York Formally adopted
North Carolina Formally adopted
North Dakota Formally adopted
Ohio Formally adopted
Oklahoma Formally adopted
Oregon Formally adopted
Pennsylvania Formally adopted
Rhode Island Formally adopted
South Carolina Formally adopted
South Dakota Formally adopted
Tennessee Formally adopted
Texas Non-member
Utah Formally adopted
Vermont Formally adopted
Virginia Initiative member; will not adopt[28]
Washington Formally adopted
West Virginia Formally adopted
Wisconsin Formally adopted
Wyoming Formally adopted

Texas and Alaska are the only states that are not members of the initiative. Virginia is a member but has decided not to adopt the Standards. The U.S. Virgin Islands have also adopted the Standards. Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa Islands, and Northern Mariana Islands have not adopted the Standards.


With the implementation of new standards, states are also required to adopt new assessment benchmarks to measure student achievement. According to the Common Core State Standards Initiative website, formal assessment is expected to take place in the 2014–2015 school year, which coincides with the projected implementation year for most states.[29] The assessment has yet to be created, but two consortiums were generated with two different approaches as to how to assess the standards.[30] “26 states formed the PARCC RttT Assessment Consortium. Their approach focused on computer-based ‘through-course assessments’ in each grade combined with streamlined end of year tests, including performance tasks." [31] The second consortium, “the SMARTER Balance Consortium, brought together 31 states proposing to create adaptive online exams.” [32] The final decision of which assessment to use will be determined by individual state education agencies. The Common Core State Standards website explained that some states plan to work together to create a common, universal assessment system based on the common core state standards while other states are choosing to work independently or through these two consortiums to develop the assessment.[33] Both of these leading consortiums are proposing computer-based exams that include fewer selected and constructed response test items, which moves away from what we typically think of as the Standardized Test most students are currently taking. This kind of assessment would be better aligned to college and career readiness, but does pose some interesting challenges considering the limited computer and technology resources available to some schools.


  1. ^ Gibbs, T. H. and Howley, A. (2000). “"World-Class Standards" and Local Pedagogies: Can We Do Both?” Thresholds in Education. ERIC Publications. 51 – 55.
  2. ^ "About Achieve." (2011) Achieve, Inc.
  3. ^ "Closing the Expectations Gap 2011: Sixth Annual 50-State Progress Report." (2011). Achieve, Inc. <>
  4. ^ “Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma That Counts.” (2004) Achieve, Inc. <>
  5. ^ "Ready or Not"
  6. ^ "Ready or Not"
  7. ^ "Ready or Not"
  8. ^ NGA Press Release announcing the Common State Standards Initiative
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ Department of Education. President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan Announce National Competition to Advance School Reform. 24 July 2009. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. <>
  12. ^ “U.S Department of Education”
  13. ^ Fletcher, G. H. (2010). “Race to the Top: No District Left Behind.” T. H. E Journal 37 (10): 17 – 18.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Anderson, Nick (March 10, 2010). "Common set of school standards to be proposed". Washington Post. p. A1. 
  16. ^ a b c d Walsh, Molly (14 September 2010). "Vermont joins 30 otherws in Common Core". Burlington, Vermont: Burlington Free Press. pp. 1B. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m “Key Points in English Language Arts. (2011). <>
  19. ^ "Hawaii No Longer Requires Teaching Cursive In Schools". Huffpost Education. 1 August 2011.
  20. ^ mathematics Standards
  21. ^ Garfunkel, S. A. (2010). “The National Standards Train: You Need to Buy Your Ticket.” UMAP J 31 (4): 277 – 280.
  22. ^ appendix
  23. ^ Tienken, C. H. (2010). “Common Core State Standards: I Wonder?” Kappa Delta Pi Rec 47 (1): 14 – 17.
  24. ^ Tienken, C. H. (2010). “Common Core State Standards: I Wonder?” Kappa Delta Pi Rec 47 (1): 14 – 17.
  25. ^ Transcript and MP3 of part one:Should All US Students Learn the Same Thing?
  26. ^ Part two: No National Standards: Strength or Weakness for Schools in US?
  27. ^ In the States (Common Core Standards Initiative website)
  28. ^ "Virginia's stance against national standards is a blow for students". The Washington Post. 2010-06-05. 
  29. ^
  30. ^ "Common Core State Standards and Assessment Coalitions." Education Insider. 9 Sept. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2011. < common-core-standards-and-assessment-coalitions>
  31. ^ "Common Core State Standards and Assessment Coalitions"
  32. ^ "Common Core State Standards and Assessment Coalitions"
  33. ^ "Common Core State Standards: In the States"

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