NEWARK — New York State’s new Common Core standards, the detailed specifications of what each child should learn all the way through school and be able to demonstrate by graduation, have been around for three years.
But the testing for how students are achieving against those standards was begun last spring — and the results are sending shock waves across kitchen tables statewide as parents try to figure out what’s going on.
At the last Newark school board meeting, new Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Krista Lewis described what the common core standards are — and how they’re much different.
New York is preparing its students for “college readiness,” to have the skills they need to do well in “college,” which is defined as any post-high-school program that leads to a degree or certificate. Being “ready” means that students graduate from high school with strong math and English skills.
The new standards, which are being used in 45 states, ensure that every child is held to the same objectives and learns the same material, and that their teachers are provided with a clear, focused roadmap for what to teach and when. 
In English, the focus is on non-fiction and careful reading, using more evidence in writing, with a higher-level “academic” vocabulary. In math, students will learn fewer concepts but delve deeper into them, focus on skill-building, speed and accuracy, and use real-world examples.
Parents are encouraged to ask lots of questions when their kids get home: “Did you talk about anything you read today? Did you use evidence when you talk about what you read? Did you learn any new words? How do you spell them? How did you use math today? Can you show me? How did you get your answer?”
Expect kids to read a lot more non-fiction, and what they read will be more challenging. In school, they’ll be asked a lot of questions about what they read and must be prepared to provide proof of their opinions. Parents should provide more non-fiction books and articles, and read them with their children. Find books that explain how things work and why.
And parents are expected to share the learning experience by offering challenging reading to their children and discussing it. The classroom enters the home, to the point that parents are urged to encourage their children to write — and to write with them. As writing develops, so will vocabulary. Kids want to develop a “language of power,” Lewis said.
In math, students will be pressed to learn more about fewer concepts, develop speed and accuracy and be able to “really know it, really do it.”
Parents must understand that skills will be built, year on year. If their child struggled last year, that will affect this year. Lewis urged that parents must be advocates for their kids to make sure proper support is offered in the school.
At home, parents need to push children to know, understand and memorize basic math functions. Lewis detailed that parents need to help their kids spend time practicing the same concept until the child knows it cold. Parents should look for opportunities to help a child to learn and use math skills at home.
“Get smarter in the math your child needs to know,” she said.