A- A A+

What Do the Common Core State Standards and Tests Look Like?

Common Core State Standards - TestsAs public schools in 45 of the nation’s states and the District of Columbia gear up to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), parents in participating states may want to learn more about the new standards as well as the annual assessments (tests) that will measure student progress. The Common Core State Standards Initiative assures that the new standards have been carefully designed to improve the quality of K–12 education and to better prepare students for college and career. They also claim the new standards are evidence-based, realistic, and practical. The success of the English and math standards will be assessed through testing of students in grades 3–8 and once in high school. (There’s no decision yet on whether the test will be given in 10th or 11th grade.) Standards for other academic subjects will continue to be set by each state. Below is a snapshot of the CCSS for both subject areas.

What Do the Common Core State Standards Look Like?The CCSS for English/language arts and math have several distinguishing elements. Below is an overview of the key points for each subject.

English/Language Arts


  • Standards progress in increasing complexity from one grade level to the next, so all students will graduate from high school ready to do college and career-level reading.
  • Reading comprehension is emphasized throughout.
  • Mastery of several types of content considered critical to future reading success is required.


  • Key to writing standards is the ability to write logical arguments based on sound reasoning, substantive claims, and relevant facts is emphasized, even in the early grade levels.
  • The ability to do proper research is also emphasized.

Speaking & Listening

  • Students will evaluate and present increasingly complex information, evidence, and arguments through listening, speaking, and media.
  • Practice in both formal presentations and informal discussions (one-on-one, small groups, and whole-class) is required.


  • Students will learn vocabulary through a mix of conversations, direct instruction, and reading.
  • Students will learn both the meaning and nuances of words.

Media & Technology

  • Skills related to media use are integrated throughout the standards.


K–5 Standards

  • K-5 standards emphasize a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals.
  • Kindergarten standards focus on relating numbers to quantities, and learning how to put numbers together and take them apart. (Standards are informed by a national research report and successful international models.)
  • Conceptual understanding of math is emphasized, along with procedural skills.

Middle School Standards

The middle school standards are robust and prepare students for high school math.

  • Students in 6th and 7th grade will do hands-on learning in geometry, algebra, probability, and statistics.
  • Students who master the skills listed above will learn algebra in 8th grade.

High School

The high school standards are rigorous and will equip students for college and career by:

  • Preparing students to think and reason mathematically through practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real world issues
  • Emphasizing mathematical modeling, and the use of math and statistics to analyze and understand empirical situations
  • Making math relevant and more meaningful to students

Learn more about the Common Core State Standards assesments.  

What Specific Tests Will Be Used to Measure the Progress of Common Core State Standards?States that have adopted the Common Core State Standards are now collaborating to develop common assessments (tests) that are aligned to the CCSS. These tests will be available in the 2014–2015 school year. The U.S. Department of Education has awarded grants to two groups to develop the general assessment systems focused on the CCSS. One is the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), working on computer adaptive tests. The other group, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), is developing computer-based assessments in English and math. Grants have also been provided to two consortia—Dynamic Learning Maps and the National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC) Partnership to develop the alternate assessment on alternate standards for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.  

NCLD is working collaboratively with the civil rights and disability community to assure that the $570 million investment by the U.S. Department of Education in new states’ test systems assures that:

  • The civil rights of students with disabilities under IDEA and Section 504 are protected
  • The consortia use the most modern technology and universal design features
  • Every test item is fully accessible to every student
  • Every eligible student may have all of the accommodations they are entitled to under IDEA and Section 504

There is some concern that outdated thinking within the consortia—about access to accommodations such as “read-aloud, calculators, scribes, and word prediction software”—will keep them from creating the most modern, research-based, robust, and universally-designed tests that would allow all students to show what they know. We’ll follow these developments closely and will issue news and updates through our monthly LD Action newsletter and other email communications.

Learn How Common Core State Standards Play Out in Your StateFor more detailed information on when and how the Common Core State Standards and assessments will be rolled out in your state, ask your child’s school or district office, and visit your state’s Department of Education website.

More on Common Core Standards

Kristin Stanberry is a writer and editor specializing in parenting, education, and consumer health/wellness issues. Her areas of expertise include learning disabilities and ADHD, topics which she wrote about extensively for Schwab Learning and GreatSchools.