Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

As Indiana Starts Transition To Common Core, Teachers Split On New Standards

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Lisa Coughanowr, a kindergarten teacher at East Side Elementary in Brazil, reads aloud to her students. She asks questions about the story to check their understanding. Kindergarten and first grade teachers are already using the new Common Core academic standards in their classrooms.

The Common Core is designed to increase the number of students prepared for college and career, but some parents and teachers say the new English language arts and math standards aren’t as strong as what Indiana had before.

“Our kids started coming with a curriculum that we didn’t think was going to make them ‘college ready’ — that’s the term everyone likes to use,” says Indianapolis parent Erin Tuttle. “It’s drastically different than what my older child had, and I found it to be less challenging.”

That’s why Tuttle approached Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, with her concerns about the Common Core. Schneider has proposed legislation to withdraw Indiana from the nationally-crafted academic standards adopted in 46 states.

The new standards are already shaping instruction for Indiana’s youngest students. Some kindergarten and first grade teachers really like the Common Core. But others say they’re a step back from Indiana’s current standards.

Why Some Educators Say ‘It’s Made Us Better Teachers’

Lisa Coughanowr and Hannah Reinoehl teach kindergarten at East Side Elementary in Brazil. They aligned their classrooms to the Common Core last year.

Coughanowr says she still uses many of the same activities she taught under the old state standards. But now story time is peppered with questions that check her students’ comprehension.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Hannah Reinoehl, a kindergarten teacher at East Side Elementary in Brazil, uses sign language to help her students review letter sounds.

“What’s Mom bringing out?” she asks, reading aloud from a book about a snowy day.

The kids spy a steaming mug of cocoa on the page. “Hot chocolate!”

“Remember everything we can learn from the illustrations,” says Coughanowr.

Think of standards like a model skeleton. It’s up to teachers to assemble the bones and flesh them out. One of the kindergarten standards is to demonstrate a command of standard English capitalization and punctuation.

Coughanowr points to a sentence in the book she’s reading aloud.

“Can someone tell me what a sentence always, always starts with?” she asks.

Before, Coughanowr and Reinoehl used themes like transportation or food to help students learn shapes, sounds, numbers and colors. They pulled lessons from a textbook.

“If the standards fit, then that was good, and if they didn’t, we taught the theme,” Reinoehl says.

But now the teachers start with the Common Core and design their curriculum around the standards.

“That’s what drives our instruction,” says Coughanowr. “Everything that we plan, we plan around the standards. So maybe there’s not as much fluff as there used to be.”

Indiana had good academic standards before. But proponents of Common Core adoption say teachers weren’t always teaching to Indiana standards. That’s what was happening at East Side Elementary.

Reinoehl and Coughanowr say the new standards have forced them to drill into the topics they teach — and their students have risen to the challenge.

“Looking at the different parts of reading and the different parts of math, how much more they can do with reading, how much better readers they’re becoming, how much better writers they are because we’re more focused on that,” says Reinoehl.

“Yeah, I think you could even go as far to say it’s made us better teachers,” says Coughanowr. “It’s made us understand the learning process a lot better.”

‘It’s A Lot More Regimented’ And Other Concerns With The Core

Schools across the state are implementing the Common Core in kindergarten and first grade. Audrey Fetters teaches at Flint Springs Elementary in Huntington. Like the Brazil teachers, she says the new standards have changed her kindergarten classroom.

Elle Moxley / StateImpact Indiana

Audrey Fetters, a kindergarten teacher at Flint Springs Elementary in Huntington, flips through notes she took during a meeting on Common Core implementation.

“I’m very tied to the Common Core,” says Fetters. “Every decision I make about curriculum is based on the Core, what I need to teach them. We have a curriculum map.”

But Fetters strongly disagrees that the new standards have improved student learning.

“It’s a lot more regimented. There’s not as much teacher choice as there used to be,” she says.

Part of the problem is how the new standards are written. Fetters shuffles through her papers and reads the old Indiana standard for a skill taught in kindergarten, phonemic awareness.

“One, the big idea: What phonemic awareness is,” says Fetters. “Recognize name, capital lower case letters of the alphabet, phonemes — you know, orally stated words — and manipulate and blend sounds to make new words.”

Now Fetters reads the Common Core standards:

Now it’s — you know, let’s see — identify orally upper case, identify orally lower case, identify if words rhyme when given a spoken prompt, state rhyming words in response to an oral prompt, recognize the concept of a syllable, count and state the number of syllables in a word, blend syllables together to form a word when given an oral prompt, segment words into syllables orally when given a prompt, read high-frequency words by sight, blend and rhyme single-syllable words, state the initial sounds in three phoneme words, state the median sounds in three phoneme words, state the final sound in three phoneme words.

Fetters says not only are the new standards confusing, they’re weaker than what Indiana had before.

“It’s pretty complex. If you just look at it, it could almost be overwhelming,” she says.

And it’s a lot for kindergarteners to take in. Fetters used to teach phonemes with arts and crafts, activities she says were developmentally appropriate for kindergarteners. She asked the school curriculum coach if she could still incorporate those lessons into the 90-minute literacy block that’s part of the Common Core.

“I’m not sure Common Core is the beast. I think the beast is a huge paradigm shift that happened somewhere along the way. In the last five years, it’s gotten crazy. I think technology gave us the ability to obsess over data.”
—Audrey Fetters, teacher 

“If I’m blending, having them paint or cut or do this kind of thing, cut paper and make pictures that relate to letter sounds and word patterns? I was told I wouldn’t even get the paint out.”

The state is developing a new assessment based on the Common Core, and Fetters wants her students to do well on it. So she dropped the crafts.

“There’s all this talk of not teaching to the test, but how do you not pay attention to what’s on those tests if my evaluation, if my success as an educator is reflected by how they perform?” she asks.

Fetters says she likes State Superintendent Glenda Ritz’s suggestion — pause, and take a year to review Indiana’s old standards against the Common Core.


  • John Stoffel

    A must read when deciding if CCSS have improved education for the primary grades:
    “The people who wrote these CCSS standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education,”

    At best, the standards reflect guesswork, not cognitive or developmental science.

    • Nina Bishop

      I cannot believe that anyone who had a background in any kind of education would believe that all students being taught the same thing at the same time would progress at the same rate. Children are unique and there are many learning styles. I don’t believe those who wrote the Common Core took this into consideration before inflicting it upon our children.

  • Sandra Hawk

    What follows is a list of the Common Core-based standards for Language Arts currently in use in Kindergarten in Indiana.

    Identify front cover, back cover and title page of a book
    Follow words from left to right and from top to bottom
    Understand that printed materials provide information
    Recognize that sentences in print are made up of separate words
    Distinguish letters from words
    Recognize and name all capital and lowercase letters of the alphabet
    Listen to 2 or 3 consonant phonemes — tell number, whether same or
    different, and order
    Listen and say changes in spoken syllables when one consonant sound is
    added or taken away
    Listen to and say consonant-vowel-consonant sounds and blend sounds to
    make words
    Say rhyming words in response to an oral prompt
    Listen to one syllable words and tell the beginning or ending sounds
    Listen to spoken sentences and recognize individual words in the
    sentence; listen to words and recognize individual sounds in the words
    Count the number of syllables in words
    Match consonant sounds to appropriate letters.
    Read one-syllable and high-frequency words by sight
    Use self correcting strategies when reading simple sentences
    Read your own name
    Understand the alphabetic principle, which means that as letters in words
    change, so do the sounds.
    Learn and apply knowledge of alphabetical order (first letter) when
    using a classroom or school library/media center
    Identify and sort common words in basic categories (colors, shapes,
    food, etc.)
    Identify common signs and symbols (Stop sign, store sign, etc.)
    Listen to stories read aloud and use the vocabulary in those stories in
    oral language.
    Locate the title, and the name of the author of a book
    Use pictures and context to aid comprehension and draw conclusions or
    make predictions about story content
    Generate and respond to questions (who what, where)
    Identify types of everyday print materials (signs in the school,
    storybook, beginner’s dictionary, etc.)
    Identify the order (first, last) of information
    Distinguish fantasy from reality
    Retell (beginning, middle, end) familiar stories
    Identify characters, settings, and important events in a story
    Identify favorite books and stories
    Understand what is heard or seen by responding to questions (who, what,
    Discuss ideas to include in a story
    Tell a story that the teacher or someone else will write
    Write using pictures, letters, and words
    Write phonetically spelled words and c-v-c words
    Write by moving from left to right and from top to bottom
    Ask how and why questions about a topic of interest
    Identify pictures and charts as sources of information and begin
    gathering information from a variety of sources (books, technology)
    Organize and classify information into categories of how and why or by
    color or size
    Draw pictures and write words for a specific reason
    Draw pictures and write for specific people or persons
    Write capital and lowercase letters of the alphabet, correctly shaping
    and spacing the letters
    Spell independently using an understanding of the sounds of the
    alphabet and knowledge of letter names
    Understand and follow one- and two-step spoken directions
    Share information and ideas, speaking in complete, coherent sentences
    Describe people, places, things (including size, color, shape)
    locations and actions
    Recite short poems, rhymes, and songs
    Tell an experience or creative story in a logical sequence
    (chronological order, first, second, last)

  • Sandra Hawk

    Here is a list of the Common Core based standards for Mathematics currently in use in Kindergarten in Indiana.

    Match sets of objects one-to-one
    Compare sets of up to 10 objects and identify if one set is equal to, more than, or
    less than another
    Know that larger numbers describe sets with more objects in them than sets
    described by smaller numbers
    Divide sets of ten or fewer objects into equal groups (take 6 blocks and give 2 to each of 3 children)
    Divide shapes into equal parts (folding a piece of paper that is a cut out of the shape)
    Count recognize, represent, name, and order a number of objects. (Count a group of 7 pennies and recognize that 7 is the number for this set.)
    Find the number that is 1 less or one more than any whole number up to 10
    Use correctly the words one / many, none / some / all, and most / least.
    Record and organize information using objects and pictures. (Ask some of your
    friends what pets they have. Use pictures of animals to show the number of
    pets your friends have.
    Model addition by joining sets of objects for numbers less than 10. (Put together 2
    pencils and 3 pencils. Count the number of pencils)
    Model subtraction by removing objects from sets for numbers less than 10. (From a pile of 9 crayons take away 6 crayons. Count the number of crayons left in the pile.)
    Describe addition and subtraction situation for numbers less than 10. (i.e. make up
    your own story problem and know whether it requires subtracting or adding)
    Identify, sort, and classify objects by size, number, and other attributes, also be able to identify objects that do not belong to a particular group.
    Identify, copy, and make simple patterns with numbers and shapes.
    Identify and describe common geometric objects: circle, triangle, square, rectangle,
    and cube.
    Compare and sort common objects by position, shape, size, roundness, and number of vertices. (i.e. corners)
    Identify and use the terms: inside, outside, between, above, and below
    Make direct comparisons of the length, capacity, weight, and temperature of
    objects and recognize which object is shorter, longer, taller, lighter,
    heavier, warmer, cooler, or holds more.
    Understand concepts of time: morning, afternoon, evening, today, yesterday, tomorrow, week, month, and year, and understand that clocks and calendars are tools that measure time.
    Choose the approach, materials, and strategies to use in solving problems. (“There are four blocks on the table and a box of blocks that is closed. The teacher says that there are five blocks in the box. Find the number of blocks in all, without opening the
    box.” — Decide to draw a picture — or use counters instead of the blocks themselves, etc.)
    Use tools such as objects or drawings to model problems.
    Explain your reasoning process by illustrating it with concrete objects and pictures.
    Make precise calculations and check the validity of the results in the context of
    the problem being solved.

  • Sandra Hawk

    When I made these lists, Indiana had incorporated Common Core into the Kindergarten curriculum for Language Arts and Math, but not for Science or Social Studies, so I started with the Indiana standards as the base and tweaked them to incorporate Common Core.

    Here’s what I got for Social Studies:

    Compare children and families of today with those in the past. (compare clothing,
    houses, and objects of the past with the present.)
    Identify celebrations and holidays as a way of remembering and honoring people,
    events, and American’s ethnic heritage. (Identify Thanksgiving, Columbus Day,
    Grandparent’s Day, and birthdays)
    Listen to and retell stories about people in the past who showed honesty, courage,
    and responsibility. (Examples: George Washington, Chief Little Turtle,
    Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr.)
    Identify and order events that take place in a sequence. (Identify events in the
    school day as first, next, last, yesterday, today, and tomorrow; place school
    events in order.)
    Explain that calendars are used to represent days of the week and months of the year. (Use a calendar to identify days of the week and school activities and
    Give examples of people who are community helpers and leaders and describe how
    they help us. (Parents, teachers, school principal, bus drivers, policemen.)
    Identify and explain that the President of the United States is the leader of our
    country and that the American flag is a symbol of the United States.
    Give examples of classroom and school rules and explain how each helps us.
    Give examples of how to be a responsible family member and member of a group.
    (Respecting the property and rights of others, being honest and truthful, and
    respecting authority.)
    Identify the role of students in the classroom and the importance of following school
    rules to ensure order and safety.
    Identify and compare similarities and differences in families, classmates,neighbors, neighborhoods, and ethnic and cultural groups. [Example: Use newspapers, yearbooks, local Websites, and photographs to show the similarities and differences in family customs and celebrations, clothing, houses, work, and cultural and ethnic heritage.]
    Identify maps and globes as ways of representing Earth and understand the basic
    difference between a map and a globe.
    Locate and describe places found in the school and your community. (Cafeteria, library, office, restrooms, gym, hospital, fire station, etc.)
    Identify and describe the address and location of your home and school.
    Recommend ways that people can improve the environment at home, in school, and in the neighborhood
    Describe and give examples of seasonal weather changes and illustrate how weather
    affects people and the environment. [Example: In different seaons, people wear different kinds of clothing.]
    Use words related to location, direction, and distance including: here /there,
    over / under, left /right, above/below, forward/ backward, and between.(Give and follow simple navigational directions such as walk forward ten steps, turn right, and walk between the desks.)
    Explain that people work to earn money to buy the things they want.
    Identify and describe different kinds of jobs that people do and the tools or equipment used in these jobs. (Use picture books, stories, and software programs to illustrate and identify different types of jobs, as well as tools and materials used in different jobs.)
    Explain why people in a community choose different jobs. (People may have different
    types of jobs because they like doing different things, or because they are better at doing one particular type of job.)
    Give examples of work activities that people do at home.

  • Sandra Hawk

    When I made these lists, Indiana had incorporated Common Core into the Kindergarten curriculum for Language Arts and Math, but not for Science or Social Studies, so I started with the Indiana standards as the base and tweaked them to incorporate Common Core.

    Here’s what I got for Science:

    Use a scientific notebook to record predictions, questions, and observations about data with pictures, numbers or in words.

    Conduct investigations that may happen over time as a class, in small groups, or independently

    Generate questions and make observations about natural processes.

    Make predictions based on your observations

    Discuss your observations with your peers and be able to support your conclusion with evidence.

    Make and use simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses.

    Recognize a fair test.

    Identify a need or problem to be solved.

    Document the design throughout the entire design process.

    Brainstorm potential solutions.

    Select a solution to the need or problem.

    Select the materials to develop a solution.

    Create the solution.

    Evaluate and test how well the solution meets the goal.

    Communicate the solution with drawings or prototypes.

    Communicate how to improve the situation.

    Use all senses as appropriate to observe, sort and describe objects according to their composition and physical properties, such as size, color, and shape. Explain these choices to others and generate questions about the objects

    Identify and explain possible uses for an object based on its properties and compare these uses with other students’ ideas.

    Observe and record during sunny days when the sun shines on different parts of the school building.

    Describe and compare objects seen in the night and day sky.

    Describe in words and pictures the changes in weather from month to month and season to season.

    Observe and draw physical features of common plants and animals.

    Describe and compare living animals in terms of shape, texture of body covering, size, weight, color, and the way they move.

    Describe and compare living plants in terms of growth, parts, shape, size, color, and texture.

  • lady

    The Common Core brings a lot of stress to kindergarteners.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »