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What Is 'Common Core'?

The Common Core State Standards were designed to improve student achievement by standardizing the curriculum taught in American schools. However, the standards have caused controversy among educators, parents, and politicians. Common Core is discussed in greater detail below. For more information, visit FindLaw's Competency Testing section.

The Common Core: Overview

The Common Core standards were first developed in 2009 with the goal in mind that students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in life. Although the federal government wasn't involved in its creation, it has encouraged states to adopt the project. However, critics claim Common Core amounts to a national curriculum for schools and leads to teachers being told how to teach. To date, 46 states and the District of Columbia have voluntarily adopted (and are moving forward with) the Common Core.

Common Core Standards

The standards, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, are:

  1. Research- and evidence-based
  2. Clear, understandable, and consistent
  3. Aligned with college and career expectations
  4. Based on rigorous content and application of knowledge through higher-order thinking skills
  5. Built upon the strengths and lessons of current state standards
  6. Informed by other top performing countries in order to prepare all students for success in the global economy and society


The standards describe, grade by grade, the reading and math skills that students should have as they go from kindergarten through high school. For example, a first-grade reader should be able to use a story's pictures and details to describe its characters. In second grade, the student should be able to compare and contrast two versions of a story. A first-grade math student should be able to add and subtract, and a third-grade math student should be able to do multiplication and division. You can review for yourself the particular English language arts and mathematics standards.

Comparison to Old Standards

The Common Core standards are viewed as more rigorous because they require students to think and reason to a greater degree. The English standards rely on a more even mixture of literary and informational texts. In addition, the math standards focus on the "why" and the "how" of problem-solving. Rather than typical fill-in-the-bubble tests, Common Core standardized tests are designed to track students' progress through the use of varied tests.

Development of the Common Core

The states' governors and education commissioners, through their representative organizations, led the development of the Common Core State Standards. Teachers, parents, school administrators, and experts, along with state leaders, provided input into the development of the standards. The implementation of the Common Core is led at the state and local level.

Early Results

Because states have implemented the Common Core Standards at different rates, assessing the results is challenging. However, early implementation states such as Kentucky and New York showed disappointing results. Common Core supporters have responded by explaining that assessments given for the first time often produce disappointing results. Supporters can also claim that the tests are more rigorous than previous state assessments.

In most states, the first Common Core State Standards tests were administered in the spring of 2015.


Common Core continues to be controversial, and part of the difficulty in implementation has been political. States may choose to suspend, delay, or abandon the Common Core State Standards. States may even opt-in some years and opt-out in others. Contact an education law attorney in your area if you need legal advice.

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