What does it mean to be Common Core Aligned or Common Core Standards-Based? Many teachers are facing a desperate search to create or find and teach lessons that are in line with and observe the standards of the CCSS for their perspective subject areas and grade levels. In this search, it seems as if every product on the market claims to be Common Core aligned. But how do you really know it is truly aligned to the standards you need to teach? How can you really tell whether the product is truly aligned in a manner that will help you teach AND help your students learn the necessary skills on which they will eventually be tested at the national level?
Here are some quick tips for helping you find or rule out products that claim to be CCSS aligned:
Tip #1: Obviously, when the product claims to be CCSS Aligned or Common Core Standards-Based, look for the proof. Does the product tell you which actual standard(s) it is aligned to? Does the product have those alignment documents available for you to look at or use? Can you download the alignment to see exactly where it aligns? This is especially important if a product is aligned to many standards. If the product merely claims to be aligned, but does not indicate exactly which standards to which it is aligned—you may want to skip it.
Take a look at the standard itself to which the product claims to be aligned. Is the product a vague and/or broad lesson? For example, at the end of the Reading: Literature Common Core State Standards for most grades, there is a standard similar to this:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.6.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poems, in the grades 6–8 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
By looking at this standard, ANY product that is about ANY piece of literature could be CCSS aligned. But does it really teach anything? You must be familiar with the standards at least on a basic level in order to distinguish between a broad standard such as this, and one that actually addresses the knowledge and practice of a particular skill or focus.
Tip #2: Similarly, be sure that the standard is addressing a skill that is grade level appropriate. The following 8th grade standard could technically be addressed in any grammar, writing, or speaking activity:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
An activity in which students identify verb tense may fall under the conventions of grammar for this 8th grade standard, but how appropriate is that activity for the grade level? (Side note: identifying verb tense is a standard at the 1st grade level). Of course, if your students need to learn verb tense in order to master verbals, you may have to use this type of activity to get them up to par. Just know that it will not address the skill on which your students will be tested, and in order for your students to be successful on what they will be tested, you will have to teach grade-level appropriate competencies.
Tip #3: If the product or material indicates the particular standard it is addressing, look at how much of the standard is being addressed, and how is that particular skill being taught? It is scary how many “aligned” products slap a standard onto a product merely because of a matching word or phrase. Look at the actual product to see HOW and HOW MUCH of the standard is actually addressed and taught in the product or material. For example, under the CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.1 standard is the sub-standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.1a Explain the function of verbals (gerunds, participles, infinitives) in general and their function in particular sentences. An activity that merely mentions verbs and verbals does not necessarily address this skill. The key words are “explain the function of” and “[explain] their function in particular sentences.” Merely identifying a verb in a sentence DOES NOT address this standard! A good product teaching this standard will have student identify and explain differences between gerunds, participles, and infinitives on their own and within sentences, and have students work to identify and explain how these verbals work in a sentence. Further, students should be challenged to use verbals correctly in a sentence, and identify when a verbal is used incorrectly in a sentence.
That is not to say that a product is inadequate or subpar without addressing each angle of the standard, but when choosing a product, you want to find one that addresses as much of the standard as possible to get more bang for your buck.
Can a product written several years ago be CCSS aligned? The answer, yes… however, you must be careful. Many products written in the 1980s were written when the pendulum of education focused on self-evaluation, original creation, and self-expression, often through elective and vocational courses. Although standardized testing was invented and adopted in the late 70s, teachers often focused on more “performance” testing, and textbooks and supplemental materials had little uniformity. Products written in the 1990s should be better, as many states had their own set of standards. However, you should still examine the quality of the material as you would anything written today. If the products or materials are based on best practices and were aligned to state standards for ELA and/or the NCTE/IRA Standards for English Language Arts, you should be safe. After all, many of the CCSS for ELA were written based upon state standards as well as the NCTE/IRA Standards for English Language Arts, along with current research.
The primary message: know your stuff, and beware of false claims. The more familiar you are with the CCSS, the better you will be able to identify a good product. The more aware you are of the deluge of false claims of Common Core Alignment, the better prepared and more confidently you can teach.