Common Core State Standards: What Do They Have to Do with Higher Education?

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been adopted by 45 states in an effort to provide a consistent, clear understanding of what school age students are expected to learn. Although not with their critics, the standards are designed to be relevant to the real world, and to reflect the knowledge and skills that all students need for success in college and careers. For the last couple of years, local school districts have been diligently working to integrate these standards into all classrooms. The standards use powerful, higher level thinking verbs such as analyze, evaluate, assess, and interpret. Very little emphasis is placed on verbs such as list, describe, and identify. While contemplating these monumental changes at the K-12 level, we have been wondering about the implications of the adoption of the CCSS for higher education. This article will focus on what we believe are a few suggestions for ensuring that when K-12 students are “college and career” ready, we continue to uphold and promote the same kinds of higher level thinking and learning.

Familiarize Yourself with the Standards
The Common Core State Standards are readily available through school districts and websites dedicated to their promotion and understanding. Currently, there are college and career readiness anchor standards in several areas, including reading, writing, listening and speaking, and language arts. The anchor standards list skills that high school graduates should have in order to be ready for entry into the world of work or postsecondary education. For decades, those of us in higher education have lamented the fact that high school graduates are not always ready for postsecondary programs. The anchor standards are a way to ensure that all students move seamlessly from high school to college. As college faculty, our first responsibility then becomes to deepen our own understanding of what the standards entail.

Evaluate Your Teaching Using the CCSS

If high schools are working hard to prepare all students by having them dig more deeply into complex levels of thinking and understanding, then it is incumbent upon us to make sure we further promote higher level thinking. To what degree do we ask students to delineate and evaluate, analyze structures, and assess points of view? Do we ask students to simply take notes while we lecture them on the finer points of our various subjects, or do we challenge them to examine, defend, and synthesize information and ideas in new and personally meaningful ways?

Focus on the Career Emphasis of the Common Core
As earlier stated, the CCSS serve to promote college as well as career readiness in all K-12 students. If we are truly attentive to preparing our students for the next stage in their own journeys, then perhaps we need to be asking what we can do to ensure that we consider the “relevancy to the world” emphasis in the standards. How do we connect our current practices and experiences to the world our students will encounter when they graduate? Are our assignments and tasks designed to challenge them in an authentic context? How often do we ourselves connect with the actual environments that we endeavor to prepare our students for? Finally, how do we integrate complex thinking and learning with relevant, state of the art experiences?

Summary Thoughts
The Common Core State Standards were developed and implemented so that all school age students might be better prepared for whatever paths they choose for themselves. For those of us who teach students in higher education, it will serve us well to familiarize ourselves with the standards, revisit our own teaching to make sure we provide higher level complex thinking challenges, and finally, to ensure that the experiences we provide are truly authentic and relevant.

Dr. Patricia Kohler-Evans is an associate professor at University of Central Arkansas. Dr. Candice Dowd Barnes is an assistant professor at the University of Central Arkansas.