Putting Education Reform To The Test

How Teachers Are Creating New Lessons For Common Core State Standards

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Mrs. Kenton and her kindergarten students discuss a story about a gingerbread man. Under Common Core, the students must be able to show they comprehend what they're reading.

Editor’s note: Reporter Martha Dalton with NPR affiliate WABE-FM in Atlanta contributed to this report.

“The story was about a gingerbread man getting loose in the school.”

Kindergarteners in Katherine Kenton’s class at Tallahassee’s Gilchrist Elementary School are learning to read using the new Common Core standards.

The students have to show they understand what they’re reading.

“The gingerbread man got stuck on the ball.”

“This is where he broke his toe.”

Their teacher says comprehension is the primary focus.

“I added in a gingerbread theme to make it fun for this week and just looked at the standards in designing my lessons and seeing what I needed to focus on,” Kenton said.“I just find that the kids are learning a lot more because I think I’m paying a lot more attention to the details when I look at the standards.”

Almost all of the states have adopted Common Core standards for public schools in English, Language Arts and Math.

Florida is phasing in the standards over four years. This is year two.

The standards set clear expectations for student achievement at each grade level.

To determine how well kids are learning around the country, federal Race to the Top grants are being used to design two kinds of Common Core testing that will be split among the states.

Unlike the FCAT, which is given once a year, the new tests will be given throughout the year.

Gina Jordan/StateImpact Florida

Florida is developing Common Core assessments to measure how well students can read complex writing, complete research projects, and work with digital media. Those tests will be used in the District of Columbia and 21 other states, including Georgia.

Students in Stormi Johnson’s third grade math class at the Marietta Center for Advanced Academics near Atlanta are preparing for the new assessments. On this day, they’re tackling word problems.

“What else does the problem give us?” Johnson asked her students. “We know 28 in all. Prenna?”

Prenna answers, “We know 28, but we don’t know the unknown number.”

Prenna goes on to solve the problem.Then, Sean raises his hand.

“I disagree,” he says, and explains why.

That’s what students in Common Core states are learning to do — explain their reasoning. Johnson says that means they have to do more than simple calculations.

“I need you to show me you understand the procedures with a picture, with sentences. So that’s been the tricky part for the kids,” Johnson said.

Students aren’t the only ones working harder. The Common Core is a set of standards, not a full curriculum. That means teachers have to come up with lessons to teach the concepts.

“If teachers are doing a really good job teaching it, they’re spending lots and lots of time on just figuring out…the best way to teach this skill,” Johnson said.

Since current textbooks weren’t written with Common Core in mind, teachers are on their own for now.

Both Georgia and Florida are scheduled to start using the new common core assessment tests within two years.


  • Anjilla

    Unfortunately from my experience teachers struggle with finding the time to create lesson plans. So many teachers spend hours and hours of planning time at home just to keep up. You wrote, “That means teachers have to come up with lessons to teach the concepts,” and while this is great in theory where will teachers find the time along with all of their other duties? Especially elementary school teachers that not only have to focus on the new ELA Common Core standards but the math standards as well. That’s a lot of lesson plans they need to completely change to make sure they are following the new standards. Your article also mentions that current textbooks aren’t written with the Common Core in mind. This is untrue. I personally know of a writing program called WriteSteps that is 100% structured to follow the Common Core standards for K-5 students. Teachers are not curriculum creators and a lot gets missed when teachers are asked to create a curriculum, more related to time constraints than anything. Plus, it takes them away from what they are there to do, to teach kids.

  • Blue Eyed Girl

    There’s a huge learning gap within these first two years of implementation. How will they ever catch up?

  • Glenn

    Are there any changes in Common Core standards for Science? I can’t seem to find any information regarding Science.

    • Pm.

      Yes, both science & social studies are also going to the common core.

  • Dr. La

    This commentary sounds like teachers are dismayed to construct their own materials. I think one of the problems of this last decade is that teachers have not been accorded professional status. They know their students and know what they have to learn. They are in the best position to be determining the “next lesson” to teach the standards. Too often teachers have been regarded as robots who were supposed to use a script. However, Anjilla makes an important point: teachers need planning time–real time, not time taken over by conferences and meetings.

  • Diva

    Bravo Anjilla, you have expressed my concerns. The only thing I would like to add is that teachers need to be compensated more appropriately. In order to facilitate this transition to CC you need the best and the brightest on the bus, you cannot entice or retain these type of professionals with the current salary.

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