Common Core FAQ

The following are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about Common Core standards. The questions and answers have been taken from the Common Core State Standards Initiative website. For the complete version of this Q&A, please click here.

Educational standards are the learning goals for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. Education standards like Common Core are not a curriculum. Local communities and educators choose their own curriculum, which is a detailed plan for day-to-day teaching.

In other words, the Common Core is what students need to know and be able to do, and curriculum is how students will learn it. The Common Core State Standards are educational standards for English language arts (ELA)/literacy and mathematics in grades K-12. Please click here to read the ELA Common Core State Standards and click here to read the mathematics standards.

State education chiefs and governors in 48 states came together to develop the Common Core, a set of clear college- and career-ready standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts/literacy and mathematics.

Today, 41 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted and are working to implement the standards, which are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take credit-bearing introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.

States led the development of the Common Core State Standards. In 2009, state leaders, including governors and state commissioners of education from 48 states, two territories and the District of Columbia, came together and decided to develop common, college- and career-ready standards in mathematics and English language arts. They worked through their membership organizations — the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) — to accomplish this.

The development process included defining expectations for what every child should know and be able to do when they graduate from high school and then creating content standards for grades K-12 aligned with these expectations. States relied on workgroups of educators, representatives of higher education and other experts to write the standards with significant input from the public in 2009 and 2010.

States then appointed a validation committee to review the final standards. The federal government was not involved in the development of the standards. The final standards were published in June 2010 and available for each state to review, consider and voluntarily adopt. More detailed information on the development process is available in the complete timeline of the process.

Yes, teachers have been a critical voice in the development of the standards. The Common Core drafting process relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country. The National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), among other organizations, were instrumental in bringing together teachers to provide specific, constructive feedback on the standards.

High standards that are consistent across states provide teachers, parents and students with a set of clear expectations to ensure that all students have the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life upon graduation from high school, regardless of where they live. These standards are aligned to the expectations of colleges, workforce training programs and employers.

The standards promote equity by ensuring all students are well prepared to collaborate and compete with their peers in the United States and abroad. Unlike previous state standards, which varied widely from state to state, the Common Core enables collaboration among states on a range of tools and policies, including the:

  • Development of textbooks, digital media, and other teaching materials
  • Development and implementation of common comprehensive assessment systems that replace existing state testing systems in order to measure student performance annually and provide teachers with specific feedback to help ensure students are on the path to success
  • Development of tools and other supports to help educators and schools ensure all students are able to learn the new standards

The Common Core State Standards are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills students need in English language arts and mathematics at each grade level so they can be prepared to succeed in college, career and life. The standards establish what students need to learn, but they do not dictate how teachers should teach. Teachers will devise their own lesson plans and curriculum, and tailor their instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.

The Common Core was developed by building on the best state standards in the United States; examining the expectations of other high-performing countries around the world; and carefully studying the research and literature available on what students need to know and be able to do to be successful in college, career, and life. No state was asked to lower their expectations for students in adopting the Common Core. The evidence-based standards were developed in consultation with teachers and parents from across the country, so they are also realistic and practical for the classroom.

The English language arts and math standards are for grades K-12. Research from the early childhood and higher education communities also informed the development of the standards.

Yes. Adoption of the standards is voluntary. It is up to each state and territory to decide if they choose to adopt the Common Core State Standards as their state educational standards in English language arts and mathematics. States can tailor the standards to address their needs. Here is a map showing the states that have adopted the standards.

The following criteria guided the content and skills included in the Common Core State Standards:

  • Alignment with expectations for college and career success
  • Clarity
  • Consistency across all states
  • Inclusion of content and the application of knowledge through high-order skills
  • Improvement upon current state standards and standards of top-performing nations
  • Reality-based for effective use in the classroom
  • Evidence- and research-based

The standards made careful use of a large and growing body of evidence including the following:

  • Scholarly research
  • Surveys on the skills required of students entering college and workforce-training programs
  • Assessment data identifying college- and career-ready performance
  • Comparisons to standards from high-performing states and nations
  • National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) frameworks in reading and writing for English language arts
  • Findings from Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) and other studies, which conclude that the traditional U.S. mathematics curriculum must become substantially more coherent and focused in order to improve student achievement

English language arts and math were the subjects chosen for the Common Core State Standards because they are areas upon which students build skill sets that are used in other subjects. Students must learn to read, write, speak, listen and use language effectively in a variety of content areas, so the standards specify the literacy skills and understandings required for college and career readiness in multiple disciplines.

It is important to note that the literacy standards in history/social studies, science and technical subjects for grades 6–12 are meant to supplement content standards in those areas, not replace them. States determine how to incorporate these standards into their standards for those subjects or adopt them as content area literacy standards.

CCSSO and NGA are not leading the development of standards in other academic content areas. Below is information on efforts of other organizations to develop standards in other academic subjects.

  • Science: States have developed Next Generation Science Standards in a process managed by Achieve, with the help of the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • World languages: The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages published an alignment of the National Standards for Learning Languages with the ELA Common Core State Standards.
  • Arts: The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards is leading the revision of the National Standards for Arts Education.

Today’s students are preparing to enter a world in which colleges and businesses are demanding more than ever before. To ensure all students are prepared for success after graduation, the Common Core establishes a set of clear, consistent guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level in math and English language arts.

The standards impact teachers by:

  • Providing them with consistent goals and benchmarks to ensure students are progressing on a path for success in college, career and life
  • Providing them with consistent expectations for students who move into their districts and classrooms from other states
  • Providing them the opportunity to collaborate with teachers across the country as they develop curricula, materials and assessments linked to high-quality standards
  • Helping colleges and professional development programs better prepare teachers

Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers decide how best to help students reach the standards.

The Common Core State Standards provide clear and transparent benchmarks that parents can use to track if their children are on the path toward college and career readiness. Still, these are higher standards, and parents may find the methods and approaches different or have difficulty helping their children with homework as states transition to these standards.

Fortunately, these standards provide a great starting point for parents to have a conversation with their child's teacher about what their child should be learning in the classroom and how families may be able to help their children outside of school.

Additionally, online resources such as Be a Learning Hero are designed to assist parents in helping their children. This site includes resources developed to support your child’s learning in math and English language arts at home.

Yes. In English language arts, the standards require certain critical content for all students, including:

  • Classic myths and stories from around the world
  • America's founding documents
  • Foundational American literature
  • Shakespeare

The remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are made at the state and local levels. In addition to content coverage, the Common Core State Standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking and listening.

In mathematics, the standards lay a solid foundation in:

  • Whole numbers
  • Addition
  • Subtraction
  • Multiplication
  • Division
  • Fractions
  • Decimals

Taken together, these elements support a student's ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues and challenges. Across the English language arts and mathematics standards, skills critical to each content area are emphasized. In particular, problem-solving, collaboration, communication and critical-thinking skills are interwoven into the standards.