The Common Core: Part III. Implementation in California

Robert Lynch, Operations DirectorCurriculum

Read Parts I and Part II here.

Common Core Implementation in California

Prior to the adoption of Common Core in 2010, California used their own state standards and assessed student performance using the California Standards Tests (CST). Although it adopted common core along with 41 other states in 2010, California opted to not begin using Common Core until the 2014-15 school year. In 2011, the state joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) an inter-state consortium to develop tests based on the new standards. In 2013, legislation was passed to replace the CST with SBAC tests and begin piloting the tests in early 2014.

Fortunately for California, independent reviews have determined that the Common Core Standards are quite similar to the old California State Standards. This may partly explain why support for Common Core has been consistently higher in California compared to other states. A nation-wide poll conducted in 2015 showed a majority opposed to Common Core standards, while two polls in California conducted in 2015 and 2016 respectively, showed residents supported the new standards.

How is Common Core different from the Old State Standards in California

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One crucial difference is the new standards place less reliance on fiction (and even literature) and much more reliance on “Informational Texts” in English to compare and analyze in order to develop critical thinking skills needed for college. There is a greater requirement to think critically and use evidence to support your positions in writing.  There is a greater emphasis on reading-writing-speaking literacy across all subject areas. Given that over 20% of students in K-12 have a first language speak other than English, California has also adopted English Language Development Standards that require teachers of every subject to stress academic vocabulary and speaking skills to aid in literacy.


The new math standards place much greater emphasis on problem solving skills and encourage students to work out a problem using graphs, charts and formulas and to show how they arrived at their answers rather than rote memorization of facts, figures and formulas.

The new common core standards cover fewer topics at each grade level but require a much deeper understanding of each topic. You may recall from The Common Core Blog Part I that this was the main goal of David Coleman – one of the founders of common core - that learning should not be “spread a mile wide and an inch deep.”

The approach to testing is quite different under the new standards. Unlike the CST, SBAC tests are done electronically and this has been phased in over a multi-year period.  Moreover, SBAC uses an approach known as “adoptive testing” where each test question gets progressively more or less difficult based on how the student performed on the previous question. “Adoptive testing” is designed to hone in on what a student knows versus what they don’t know while at the same time coming up with comparable proficiency scores.