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Articles by Dr. Vern Minor

Kagan Connections—Common Core State Standards

Special Article

Common Core State Standards
The Kagan Connection

Vern Minor
Director of Educational Leadership

To cite this article: Minor, V. Common Core State Standards. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Summer 2013. www.KaganOnline.com


The development of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was an effort launched by states, not a reform that originated as a federal initiative or as a part of No Child Left Behind. Two groups coordinated this endeavor—the National Governor's Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Adoption of the standards is voluntary; presently, the only states who have not formally adopted the CCSS are the following: Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia. Other entities who have adopted the CCSS include the following: America Samoa Islands, District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

States that have adopted Common Core State Standards.

Development of the standards was a complex process. The NGA Center and the CCSSO received feedback from national organizations that represented K–12 educators, postsecondary educators, civil rights groups, English Language Learners, and students whose needs are met under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. More than 10,000 comments were gathered during two public comments periods. The process to create the standards did not involve looking for the lowest common denominators among the state standards and then using those as the basis for the CCSS; rather, the best state standards from across the country were gathered, and these became the foundation for the development of the common core.

Standards were developed in English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics. The standards have been divided into two categories. First, there are K–12 standards which address the expectations for students in elementary through high school. The second category consists of College and Career Readiness (CCR) standards. These address what students are expected to know and be able to do once they have graduated from high school.

What is interesting to note is what is NOT covered by the standards. Included in that list are the following:

(1) How to teach the standards
(2) All that can be taught
(3) Advanced work for those who excel beyond the identified standards
(4) Intervention systems for low achievers
(5) Support systems for students with special challenges, such as English Language Learners (ELL) and students with disabilities
(6) Other skills that may be needed for college and career readiness

This is a brief synopsis of the CCSS. There is much more that could be shared. An excellent website has been created that provides additional background information and the actual CCSS for ELA and Mathematics. For those wishing to read more, go to www.corestandards.org. The purpose of this document is to show how Kagan connects to the CCSS. If, after reading this document, you have questions about anything contained herein, please do not hesitate contacting us. We welcome the opportunity to dialogue with you about the contents of this document. Contact information is listed at the end of this overview.


1. Kagan Structures ensure equity.

Great emphasis is placed throughout the CCSS on equity. Evidence of this is immersed in both the ELA and Mathematics standards. Even a cursory review of the website will make this obvious to the viewer. For example, note the following excerpt taken from the site: "The NGA and the CCSO strongly believe that all students should be held to the same high expectations in the CCSS…Promoting a culture of high expectations for all students is a fundamental goal of the CCSS."

At the heart of cooperative learning is a commitment to the education of ALL students. Kagan Structures are one of the few instructional strategies that ensure all students are fully engaged with the content and with each other. Many instructional practices encourage engagement; other pedagogical strategies value engagement. However, very few ensure high levels of student engagement for all children.

PIES—the acronym which represents the four basic principles of Kagan Structures—is perhaps the strongest evidence of the value Kagan places on the education of all children. Consider the "E" in PIES, which stands for Equal Participation. Kagan Structures provide equal time and/or equal turns for every student in the room. A cooperative classroom does not just provide equal opportunities; a cooperative classroom makes certain every child is active in the room. When this expectation is the norm, students feel equal status. A traditional classroom is characterized by differing expectations and, as a result, differing status levels—some students get to answer questions while others do not; some students get repetitions with the content while others do not. Kagan Structures ensure equity—ALL students' learning is valued.

2. Kagan Structures focus on the means and the results.

The focus of CCSS is clearly on results, not the means. The standards only address WHAT students should know or be able to do. They do not define for educators the methods by which the standards should be taught. This notion is repeated throughout the standards documents, as noted in the following passage taken from the website: "Teachers are free to provide students with whatever tools and knowledge their professional judgment and experience identify as most helpful for meeting the goals set out in the Standards… Local teachers, principals, superintendents and others will decide how the standards are to be met."

Kagan Structures provide the HOW. There is a potentially serious problem brewing with the adoption of the CCSS. As noted in the Background passage, the CCSS were created by using the best standards from across the nation. Also considered in the process were international curriculum benchmarks. By nearly all measures, the CCSS represent an increase in difficulty—a higher performance expectation for children. Herein lies the problem. An achievement gap already exists between various subgroups of students with current curriculum standards. Making standards more challenging and complex without changing instructional practices will, most likely, increase the achievement gap. Kagan Structures can help avoid this problem by engaging all students with the new standards.

Additionally, not only do the Kagan Structures provide the means (e.g., the how) by which all students can meet the demands of the CCSS, the structures also address the WHAT. Many of the CCSS identify skills sets students are expected to master. Process standards (e.g., teaching skill sets) require a change in instructional practices. This will be the focus of the next section.

3. Kagan Structures impact both content (knowledge) and process (skills).

The CCSS contain both content standards (e.g., what students should know) and process standards (e.g., what skills students should perform). Kagan Structures address both types of standards. As it relates to content standards, structures for Knowledge Building help students acquire facts and information. These structures incorporate various strategies to enable students to recall knowledge they have been taught. Additionally, structures for Processing Information enable children to process information they have received and clear their working memory, thereby supporting their retention of new learning.

Kagan also has structures that help students develop various skills sets. Educators need to understand that some standards cannot be met solely by changing curriculum documents. Many standards can only be achieved through instructional practices. For example, students cannot read a book and improve their communication skills; likewise, they cannot listen to a lecture and improve their collaboration skills. If students are going to develop the skill sets that are defined in the CCSS, instructional practices will have to change. The role of the actor must shift from the teacher to the student. Structures for Procedure Learning, Thinking Skills, and Presenting Information give all students repetition in many of the skills identified in the CCSS.