Five Reasons the CCSS Can Help Struggling Students

  • Posted on: 4 September 2013
  • By: Tina McCoy

Say and do something positive that will help the situation; it doesn't take any brains to complain.  Robert A. Cook

You don’t have to look far to find someone who will berate the Common Core State Standards and drone on about their asserted shortcomings.  One glance at a newspaper or social media rand you are bound to see someone lambasting the CCSS.  I am not naïve in relation to the public policy perspectives that gave birth to the Common Core State Standards, not am I ignorant of the myriad of challenges that are before us as school systems across the country strive to redefine what a quality education should look like in the 21st century.  However, I cannot help but believe that the incessant negativity that many promote is the ultimate cop-out. It absolves them of taking constructive action to help others determine not if, but how the Common Core State Standards will be implemented effectively, realistically and with compassion for the ‘whole child’ in mind.

Given the previous assertion I will, from time to time, offer some constructive thoughts on how the Common Core State Standards have tremendous potential to enhance the quality of education provided to all students. Think of it as a peaceful rebellion against the negativity that can sometimes surround educational reform efforts.  Today’s offering emphasizes struggling students (for whom there are many underlying fears in relation to the implementation of the CCSS):

Five Reasons the CCSS Can Help Struggling Students

 One: Post-Secondary Education Outcomes

Students who struggle with unique learning or life challenges need years of well sequenced, quality instruction that will bring them where they need to be to succeed in college, a chosen career, or whatever situation they aspire to.  The CCSS focus on post-school outcomes for all students allows struggling students to receive this type of instruction during the whole course of their schooling. They have always needed this, but have almost never received it due to disparities and misalignment of curriculum within and across school systems. The CCSS can afford school systems the opportunity to provide struggling students with educational supports and services that are outcome-oriented and coherent across their entire K-12 experience.

 Two: Access to and Progress Within the General Curriculum

All students should have the right to access and progress within the general curriculum. In the past, curricular discrepancies across classrooms and schools, combined with the common attitude that the general curriculum is semi-private information, inadvertently thwarted this right for many struggling students. As an inclusion facilitator in the late nineties I recall thinking, ‘It sure would be easier to modify the curriculum if I could get a copy of it’! That sounds like a joke, but in reality there was no written curriculum being implemented in classrooms.  The CCSS takes the mystery out of the curriculum and gives all stakeholders the opportunity to engage in informed collaboration that will ensure that every student can access and progress within the general curriculum. 

 Three: Clarity of Academic Expectations

Expectations that are clear and public offer unprecedented opportunities for educators to devise individualized student learning goals that are correctly aligned to targeted outcomes and easily adjusted in ways that keep students on track to close or narrow the achievement gap. This clarity is conducive to the use of proximal goals and sub goals with students to boost both achievement and motivation. Furthermore, clarity of expectations across a school system allows opportunities for the coordination of services and supports across ‘tiers’ or among multiple educators who often provide instruction to students. The clear expectations of the CCSS offer the chance for a myriad of stakeholders to attune their efforts to promote the academic achievement of struggling students.

 Four: Acquisition, Maintenance and Generalization

Many students need more instruction and extra review to gain and maintain important knowledge and academic skills. These students often have a hard time generalizing what they learn.  The ‘fewer and clearer’ aspect of the CCSS allows students more opportunities to practice and achieve. In-depth strengthening of the same important skills and knowledge over time promotes maintenance of learning. Finally, the CCSS emphasis on multiple methods of representation, expression and engagement, along with increased focus on contextual application, is much more conducive to generalization of learning. The CCSS promotes the approach to instruction that struggling students need to acquire, maintain and generalize the skills and knowledge that are critical to their success.

 Five: Bolstered Expectations

Struggling students may fall victim to the tragedy of low expectations. Teachers and parents, hoping to preserve the self-esteem of students, seek to minimize educational challenges so that struggling students won’t become overwhelmed.  Rather than rethinking teaching strategies or implementing creative accommodations, well-meaning adults often inadvertently assign low-level work to ‘help’ students.  Unfortunately this practice usually widens the achievement gap rather than narrowing it. Furthermore, student motivation and self-efficacy can be adversely impacted by low expectations. The high expectations of the CCSS require that all educators and parents take notice; simply assigning low-level work will not get struggling students where they need to be.