The Evolution of Common Core
Georgia’s Approach to Implementing Education Standards
By Ken Abramczyk
In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education issued alandmark report entitled “A Nation at Risk.” It warned of a “rising tide of mediocrity . . . that threatens our very future” in the field of education, and led to a rush to create state education standards across the country.
However, standards varied widely from state to state, with some setting the bar higher than others. Governors and state school officers decided to tackle the task of developing nationwide requirements, and in 2009, launched the Common Core State Standards. A total of 42 states adopted these new standards, including Georgia in the fall of 2012.
Common Core standards help to ensure that students in the United States are proficient in language arts and mathematics. But what exactly is Common Core, and how does it impact Georgia students?
Common Core: The Basics
Common Core Standards are a single set of academic expectations of students at each grade level in language arts (English) and math. The standards do not include a specified day-to-day curriculum, but are basically descriptions of needed skills forming a broad outline of expectations from which a curriculum can be created.
Among the elements of the English/language arts standard are more emphasis on non-fiction reading versus literature and a focus on increasing students’ ability to read complex texts. It also calls on teachers of other subjects to teach literacy skills related to those disciplines. The math standard prioritizes a deeper focus on fewer topics, and emphasizes understanding and applying math skills.
Nationwide, the standards have become a lightning rod for controversy. Some say the national standards are another form of federal government overreach, despite the fact that the standards were developed by governors and state school officers.
Introducing the Georgia Standards of Excellence
In 2015, the Georgia State Board of Education made minor changes to the Common Core language arts and math standards, with most of the revisions clarifying mathematic language and terminology. Those changes were completed after surveys and legislative and state board listening sessions, followed by a 60-day period of public input.
The state board then voted in February 2015 to rename the standards as the Georgia Standards of Excellence (GSE). The board approved new standards for science in March 2016 and for social studies in June 2016. These standards will be implemented beginning with the 2017-2018 school year. Additionally, standards have been adopted in media arts, visual arts and theatre that will be fully adopted for the 2018-2019 school year.
In Georgia, standards are developed by the state’s own teachers, curriculum leaders, post-secondary educators and the business community, with additional input from parents and the public. The standards are designed to set challenging instructional goals and support personalized learning in meeting the diverse educational needs of all students.
The state board adopts content area standards, but each local school district may expand and enrich content standards. The Georgia Department of Education (DOE) provides instructional resources, but decisions regarding strategies and resources are left to local school districts. State laws governing textbook adoption were changed in 2016 so that the decision rests with local districts. The DOE is considering how to support districts in program evaluation without being part of the formal adoption and evaluation process. Reviews of the standards are conducted every four years in order to determine revisions based on teacher and education stakeholder feedback.
“Georgia Standards of Excellence provide consistency across the state to ensure equitable access to quality standards for a quality education,” says Pam Smith, director of curriculum and instruction for the DOE. These standards incorporate technology and provide each student with a personalized, hands-on and inquiry-based instructional program.
The Independent School Approach
Private schools are not subject to Common Core or Georgia’s state educational standards. However, private school students face the same SAT/ACT tests as public school students when they seek to get into college and to apply for scholarships. These and other standardized tests are aligned with Common Core State Standards, so even private schools need to adapt. Independent school students and their parents should become familiar with what is covered on these tests and plan their preparations accordingly.
Dr. Jeff Jackson, president of the Georgia Independent Schools Association (GISA), which consists of 160 private, independent and parochial schools with 75,000 students, says that independent schools are “highly student-centered to what the individual needs.”
Jackson says Georgia independent schools use the SAT scores and college placement as barometers of scholastic success. “Generally, we do very well with our college placements,” Jackson says. Each member school is fully accredited by at least one of the nationally recognized regional accreditation organizations.
Applying Standards to Student Needs
Standards like Common Core and the Georgia Standards of Excellence are just one element in the process of guiding students to achieve educational success. The aim is to address the individual needs of each student while achieving higher educational benchmarks, so that more students are equipped to compete and succeed in a changing world.
The approach by the Georgia Department of Education in developing the GSE is summed up best by Richard Woods, Georgia’s school superintendent: “We want to provide a holistic education, so that Georgia’s children graduate ready to learn, ready to live, and ready to lead.”
For More Information
• Review Georgia’s educational standards and sample instructional resources at georgiastandards.com
• Learn more about the Common Core State Standards initiative at corestandards.org
• Information on accreditation of private schools in Georgia is available at gapsac.org