Common Core & North Carolina Essential Standards: What’s the Difference?


Next year (2012-2013) all public schools in North Carolina will transition from the Standard Course of Study to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the North Carolina Essential Standards (NCES). While many people seem to think the two are identical they are not (though they are similar), and so this post will focus on explaining the difference between the CCSS and the NCES.

The CCSS are only available for English Language Arts and Math, so if you hear people talk about Common Core standards for Social Studies or Science or the Arts they are mistaken. Let’s say that again: the Common Core State Standards are standards for what students should be able to know and do ONLY in the subjects of English Language Arts and Mathematics (K-12 in both areas). They are NOT federal or national standards:

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a state-led effort to establish a shared set of clear educational standards for English language arts and mathematics that states can voluntarily adopt. The standards have been informed by the best available evidence and the highest state standards across the country and globe and designed by a diverse group of teachers, experts, parents, and school administrators, so they reflect both our aspirations for our children and the realities of the classroom. These standards are designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to go to college or enter the workforce and that parents, teachers, and students have a clear understanding of what is expected of them. The standards are benchmarked to international standards to guarantee that our students are competitive in the emerging global marketplace.”

The CCSS were developed through cooperation of “parents, teachers, school administrators and experts from across the country together with state leaders, through their membership in the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center)” (both quotes taken from the Common Core State Standards FAQ website). Currently, 43 states, plus the District of Columbia and the US Virgin Islands have adopted the CCSS.

The NCES, however, apply only to North Carolina, and they are for the areas of Science, Social Studies, Information & Technology Skills, the Arts, Healthful Living, World Languages, and the Occupational Course of Study. For all practical purposes you can think of the Common Core Standards as appyling to Math and English Language Arts (which includes writing) while the NCES applies to all other subject areas (there are some subject areas, such as guidance, which have yet to be approved, but for all practical purposes you can consider the NCES as “all other subjects”). The NCES were developed only by participants here in North Carolina, unlike the CCSS that were developed by people from across the nation. They also were developed with by basing the standards largely on the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy (RBT), to the point that every strand in the NCES contains one verb from the RBT. Below is a chart comparing the two:

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) North Carolina Essential Standards (NCES)
Applies to 43 States + DC and USVI Applies ONLY to NC
Not aligned to Revised Blooms Taxonomy Uses the RBT terms in the objectives
Math and ELA Standards Only Science, Social Studies, Information & Technology Skills, the Arts, Healthful Living, World Languages, and the Occupational Course of Study
Developed by people across the country Developed by people in NC
Comprehensive K-12 Standards Comprehensive K-12 Standards
Grade Specific in K-8 and Subject Specific in 9-12 Grade Specific in K-8 and Subject Specific in 9-12
“Spiral” design where students learn the same basic standard each year but in greater depth/complexity “Spiral” design where students learn the same basic standard each year but in greater depth/complexity
Focus on teaching skills & information (do & know) Focus on teaching skills & information (do & know)

As you can see, the two sets of standards are similar in many ways but they are also different in many ways. This week there is actually a team of 14 people from Pitt County Schools receiving training in and developing a comprehensive professional development plan to prepare our teachers and administrators for the transition to both the CCSS and the NCES. As the year goes on we will be sharing more information and preparing more resources so everyone is fully equipped to make this transition. An important part of that plan is a full four days of staff development (on October 28, January 18, March 3, and March 28). Check back here often for more information!

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