Tag Archives: English

Common Core Adoption: A Tale of Two Districts

janetpintoBy Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

Curriki is following the rollout of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with great interest, and you will see us report on this regularly in this blog.

Since we have a broad international audience, here is a quick description of the Common Core initiative in the United States. K-12 education in the U.S. is primarily the responsibility of individual states and localities. The CCSS is an initiative whose origins date back to the 1990s. It is sponsored by the state Governors and state education authorities, and currently 44 states (out of 50) are fully participating. CCSS addresses Mathematics and English Language Arts only at present (Science and Humanities subjects are not covered).

According to Wikipedia, “the nation’s governors and corporate leaders founded Achieve, Inc. in 1996 as a bipartisan organization to raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability in all 50 states…Standards were released for mathematics and English language arts on June 2, 2010, with a majority of states adopting the standards in the subsequent months.”

Curriki is supportive of the objectives of CCSS and we believe that we can contribute significantly, whether in the role of supplementary curricular materials or indeed, in a more central role.

Photo by ninhale via Flickr Creative Commons

The upcoming academic year 2014/2015 represents a key year in the CCSS rollout. While CCSS outlines standards and requirements, it does not provide curricula. It is up to each state and each district to determine what materials to use. Publishers of textbooks and other learning materials are naturally working toward adhering to CCSS standards. But this is a very large change and some updated textbooks are being criticized as just representing a rehash of older material rather than a fully top-down restructuring and redesign in order to fully adhere to the spirit and guidelines of CCSS.

Here’s an article comparing the experiences of two different districts –


One district is in the state of California (Long Beach) and the other is in Florida (Orlando). According to the Edweek article:

“They solved that problem in very different ways. The Florida group scoured the market and chose a suite of materials from a major publisher. Their colleagues across the country, dissatisfied with that same marketplace’s offerings—and limited by their thin pocketbook—wrote their own curriculum.”

The article notes that many districts across the country have delayed updating textbooks and curricular materials as they waited to see what publishers would produce. The district in Florida picked materials primarily from one publisher based on perceived “reflection of the common core and for having a better digital component and better interventions for students with weak skills”.

However the Long Beach district in California took a different path. Given their budget realities, and the slow schedule for CCSS rollout at their state level, they chose to retain their existing mathematics and English language arts texts, but to build new curricula and materials around those.


One way to do this – enhance or develop curricula to align to CCSS – is to make use of Curriki! There are over 50,000 open educational resources on Curriki. These are available for free to build new curricula and supplement existing curricula. For example, Curriki Geometry is a complete geometry course, free at currikigeometry.org. Curriki’s Project-Based Learning and Common Core Aligned Geometry course will help your students build the skills and confidence that will help them conquer mathematical problems and develop 21st century skills such as communication, collaboration, and teamwork.

We will continue to report to you on CCSS adoption experiences and issues across the U.S. 

New SATs – Leveling the Playing Field

janetpic_preferredBy Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

The College Board has announced major changes to the SAT format (sometimes called SATs, and officially the SAT Reasoning test) beginning in 2016. The test is very widely used in college admissions in the U.S. Many have argued that the results of the test are given too high a weight in admissions. Research indicates that high school grades are much better correlated with college performance than SAT scores. But the SAT is here to stay, and will remain of major importance in determining where high school graduates can attend college or university. The new set of tests will revert to a maximum score of 1600 based on the combination of the math and the English reading/writing sections. The essay portion of the exams will remain, but become optional, while also more rigorous.


Much of the motivation toward redefining the test is in an attempt to level the playing field and deliver opportunity for students coming from various economic and cultural backgrounds. See the College Board web site for their thoughts around this issue. There is an excellent article from the NY Times discussing the story of how the new version of the SAT came to be.

In addition to the issue of how much to weight the SAT and its competitor, the ACT, are given in admissions, there have long been concerns that the affluent have a double advantage in taking either of these tests. First, they are generally attending better schools than less privileged students, and have been exposed to more difficult concepts in math and more difficult vocabulary. And second, a whole SAT preparation industry has been around for decades – almost since the first SAT was introduced in 1926 – to help students improve their scores on the exams.

Many students attend training sessions for several weeks in the hopes of gaining an edge by increasing their scores by 20 or even 50 points per section. Some firms in the test preparation industry offer money back guarantees of improving scores by 50 points per section, although research indicates that the average gain from such preparation is a total of 30 points across the current 3 sections of the SAT. Still, even a modest improvement can be the difference between getting in to that higher ranked school or not. The courses easily run several hundreds of dollars, and the parents of students from lower economic strata generally cannot afford to send their children to these SAT preparation sessions.


In order to help level the playing field, the College Board and the Salman Khan Foundation have announced an initiative to make freely available SAT preparation materials and videos via the Web. Here’s a brief video including an interview with Salman Khan.

Curriki applauds this initiative from these two organizations. We would also like to let you know that there are a number of SAT-related resources on Curriki. Just go to our site and search for “SAT” and you will find resources such as:

1. Vocabulary resource – http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_trish1/SATpreparationshelpfulforenglish

2. Vocabulary and SAT prep – http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_Group_NassauBOCESCurriculumAreaProjectsCAP/Gr10-12VocabularyandSATPrep

3. Word Dynamo – http://www.curriki.org/xwiki/bin/view/Coll_jennifermorgan/SATStudyGuidesWordDynamo

July Resources at Curriki

janetpic_preferred_croppedBy Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

There are new featured resources highlighted at Curriki for the month of July, in math and science, and in social studies and English language arts. See these pages on the Curriki site covering the four subject areas:

ELA: http://www.curriki.org/welcome/subjects/english-language-arts-11/

SS: http://www.curriki.org/welcome/subjects/social-studies-10/

MATH: http://www.curriki.org/welcome/subjects/mathematics-10/

SCI: http://www.curriki.org/welcome/subjects/science-11/


Since Independence Day is next week in the U.S., we highlight U.S. history here. One of the curricula under the Social Studies category above is a high school level U.S. history curriculum.


This curriculum covers all of the material outlined by the College Board as necessary to prepare students to pass the AP U.S. History exam.

Upon completion of this course students will:

  • Demonstrate comprehension of a broad body of historical knowledge.
  • Express ideas clearly in writing. Work with classmates to research an historical issue.
  • Interpret and apply data from original documents.
  • Identify underrepresented historical viewpoints.
  • Write to persuade with evidence.
  • Compare and contrast alternate interpretations of an historical figure, event, or trend.
  • Explain how an historical event connects to or causes a larger trend or theme.
  • Develop essay responses that include a clear, defensible thesis statement and supporting evidence.
  • Effectively argue a position on an historical issue.
  • Critique and respond to arguments made by others.
  • Raise and explore questions about policies, institutions, beliefs, and actions in an historical context.
  • Evaluate primary materials, such as historical documents, political cartoons, and first-person narratives.
  • Evaluate secondary materials, such as scholarly works or statistical analyses.
  • Assess the historical significance and cultural impact of key literary works (e.g. Common Sense, Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

Notice that this curriculum is built around critical thinking: comprehension, interpretation, expressing ideas clearly, persuasion, analysis, developing an argument with defensible support, critiquing and assessing documents, policies, beliefs, and cultural impact.


For those of you outside of the U.S., there is a great resource, Tour of the Universe, that we can all relate to. This is for use in middle school grades 6, 7, or 8 to meet astronomy and earth science standards; it has integration with mathematics, history, and technology subject areas.


This semester of science focuses on a linear exploration of our universe. Students begin by exploring the history of astronomical thought, then move to our current understanding of the universe, including the structure of the solar system, and end with a study of our home planet, Earth.

Take a look at these 12 highlighted resource areas for July, there is sure to be one or more of interest in the list!

Handwritten Mail to the Chief

By Janet Pinto, Chief Academic Officer, Curriki

NHD_header-1National Handwriting Day in the U.S.A. will be on January 23, 2013. The “lost art” of handwriting is celebrated each January 23 on John Hancock’s birthday.


In order to promote good penmanship, and civic engagement, the Handwriting Without Tears company is encouraging elementary students to send handwritten letters to the President. They can provide advice and “share … hopes for the future, words of wisdom, good wishes” as President Obama’s second term begins. Letters should be sent to Mail to the Chief by January 15, 2013. Their web site has information on how to participate, for grades K-5, including downloadable information packets and double-lined paper. You can visit their site here: http://www.hwtears.com/sites/default/lpform/mttc2012form.php?pc=website

Why handwritten letters? Handwriting Without Tears maintains that “Handwriting is more than a style—it’s a thought process. It’s the primary way elementary students communicate. Handwriting promotes an organized approach to communication, maximizes thinking time, and boosts creativity.”

Here are a few of the more interesting suggestions from handwritten letters send by students at the beginning of the President’s first term:

·         “You should get a group of scientists to try to make a flying car that runs on air.” (Ryan in Delaware)

·         “Always be truthful. You will avoid trouble.” (Ainsley in Rhode Island)

·         “Can you stop the racism and stop the wars? Make people remember their manners.” (Victor, 4th grader in North Carolina)

·         “Sometimes I hope schools will have better food. Sometimes it looks like it expired a long time ago.” (Joel in Arizona)

·         “I would like for you to change the Food Lion to have lower prices.” (Mirian, 4th grader in North Carolina)

·         “If reporters are asking you questions, just smile and answer one at a time.” (Sophie in Nebraska)

·         “Bullies should be arrested and go to jail.” (Eden, 2nd grader in Indiana)

·         “I know you’ve heard of global warming. Everyone has, but most people aren’t doing anything.” (Alana, 5th grader in Tennessee)

·         “My advice I’d like to offer you is to lower taxes. Also, if you are getting a dog, you should get a beagle. They are really cute!” (Julia, 3rd grader in New York)

·         “I think you should stop the wars and don’t let your dog break anything.” (Ben, 1st grader in Massachusetts)

·         “Please work with other presidents and kings. Meet with them and become their friends. Then we can all get along.” (Abigail in Wisconsin)

·         “You know there is mother, father and grandparent’s day, right? I think there should be kids day.” (Izel, 5th grader in Maryland)

·         “Never doubt or be scared, for you are the president of the U.S.A.” (Evan in Michigan)

Smarter than a Fifth Grader?

By Kim Jones, CEO of Curriki

A recent study found that American high school students are, unfortunately, reading at roughly the 5th grade level. The study looked at the most popular 40 books that grade 9 through grade 12 teens are reading and found the average grade level of this collection is just 5.3.

The report, from Renaissance Learning, is titled What Kids Are Reading: The Book-Reading Habits of Students in American Schools, and is available here.

A slideshow of the top 20 books on the list, and their respective grade levels, is at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/22/top-reading_n_1373680.html#slide

“The single most important predictor of student success in college is their ability to read a range of complex text with understanding,” writes David Coleman, a contributor to Common Core State Standards and commentator on the study. “If you examine the top 40 lists of what students are reading today in 6th–12th grade, you will find much of it is not complex enough to prepare them for the rigors of college and career.”

To help ensure your students are reading at an appropriate level for high school, there is a wealth of reading resources at Curriki. A good starting point is

Within this set of resources you will find units on The Great Gatsby, Invisible Man, A Separate Peace, The Kite Runner and other novels, as well as poetry resources. (Note that April is National Poetry month in the US.) Take a look and help your students move up to an appropriate reading level.

All Hallow’s Eve

[tweetmeme]Hal-low-een (n): an annual holiday observed on October 31. It has its roots in the Celtic festival Samhain and All Saints’ Day…

The night of ghost and ghouls, witches and warlocks, jack-o-lanterns and jokes inspires fear and creativity across the country year after year.

How did the modern Halloween tradition begin? What haunted traditions from the dark ages shape our celebration of the holiday today? How did an ancient harvest festival take such a terrifying turn? Watch The Haunted History of Halloween and trace the origins of the autumn holiday, from the Druids and Romans to the Monster Mash and Scream.

The swirling mists of cold autumn nights have inspired artists and poets for ages. The changing seasons, the uncertainty of the coming winter, the cold winds draw out tales of otherworldly, frightening experiences.

In American literature, no author gave a more powerful, haunting voice to these forces than Edgar Allan Poe. Poe pioneered the horror genre with such unsettling classics as The Raven and The Fall of the House of Usher.

After reading Poe’s work, encourage your students to craft their own horror stories, in the tradition of Edgar Allan Poe, just in time to spook their friends and teachers for Halloween.

Encourage literary and digital creations following the example of the Raven on the Simpsons or the Alan Parsons Project students can create their own spooky representations of Poe’s work.

Trick or Treat!

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World Language Resources



Curriki Goes Global!

Did you know that Curriki is host to hundreds of Open Educational Resources on language learning for all ability levels?

Acquiring a foreign language is one of the most personally and culturally rewarding tasks that we can put our minds to. In our increasingly globalized community, the camaraderie and understanding that comes with being able to communicate across cultures is a powerful tool in all global pursuits, be it travel, business, or education.

Increase your global awareness with World Language resources in and on a variety of languages, from Spanish to Chinese, German to Arabic, English to Indonesian, and more!

  • Curriki is always looking to build its collection of educational resources for students, teachers and parents. If you have great resources on learning world languages and want to make it available to a global community of learners and educators, contribute to Curriki today!


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