chalkbeat explains

Chalkbeat Explains

Common Core

The Common Core is a set of reading and math standards that New York State adopted in 2010, along with 45 other states and the District of Columbia.

The new standards are meant to address a persistent and confounding phenomenon: State test scores showed that most students were performing at grade level, but far fewer students entered college with the skills required to succeed there. State officials concluded that at least part of the problem is that they were not asking students to do challenging enough work.

The Common Core requires teachers to adjust their instruction and students to take on more challenging assignments. Unlike the state’s old standards, which emphasized what students should know, the Common Core focuses on skills students should develop, especially close textual analysis in reading and deep understanding of relatively few topics in math.

New York rushed ahead of almost every other state and tested students in grades 3 to 8 on the standards in 2013. (Other states are waiting until spring 2015 to use new online Common Core exams, which New York has so far declined to adopt.) Just as officials had warned, student pass rates on the tougher tests plunged from the year before, from about 55 percent in reading and 65 percent in math in 2012 to 31 percent in each subject in 2013. (In New York City, 30 percent of students passed the reading exams in 2013, and 26 percent passed in math.)

State officials and the standards’ backers explained the results as a corrective to past score inflation that illuminated the steep path actually ahead of students aiming for college. But critics saw the scores as evidence of the state’s poor planning — too little training for teachers, no new textbooks for schools, and failed communication with families. The criticism reached a peak in late 2013 when state education officials temporarily halted public forums about the Common Core because of protests, and helped inspire a record number of families to “opt out” their children from taking the 2014 Common Core tests.

In 2014, Chancellor Carmen Fariña took over the city school system. She voiced support for the standards, but said families and teachers needed more guidance on how to help students reach them. She also insisted that the Common Core is not amenable to test prep, and to make her point – as well as to conform with new state requirements – she said test scores would no longer be the main factor in student promotions. However, teachers continue to be rated partially on their students’ Common Core test scores, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposing in his 2015 State of the State speech to weight those scores even more heavily in teacher evaluations.

As time goes on, the standards are becoming more deeply entrenched in schools, but opposition to them and their related tests continues to simmer. – January 2015


Members of the public will have to judge whether the common core standards represent the knowledge and skills they want students to learn in public school. What do they think about the emphasis on informational texts over classic literature? What about the approach to learning math? On a more basic level, they must decide whether a version of national standards is appropriate or beneficial to students at all.


  • New York City piloted the standards in 100 schools in 2010-11, extended them to all schools in 2011-12, and first assessed students in grades 3-8 on them in 2012-13.
  • In New York City, 26 percent of students in grades 3-8 scored "proficient" or better on Common Core aligned English tests in 2013, down from 47 percent on tests in 2012 that were not tied to the standards
  • In math, the pass rate sank to 30 percent on Common Core tests, down from 60 percent the year before.
  • The city's proficiency rates inched up in 2014, to 28.4 percent in English and 34.2 percent in math.