Showing Parents What Grade-Level Work Looks Like

by Robert Pondiscio

The language of standards—even relatively straightforward ones like Common Core—can easily flummox the layperson (and more than a handful of professionals). What does it mean if a third grader is supposed to “use multiplication and division within 100 to solve word problems in situations involving equal groups, arrays, and measurement quantities?” Common Core might say a fifth grader should be expected to “write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.” But—on a good day at least—so should a columnist for the New York Times. What’s the difference?

Parents cannot be faulted if they look at the standards, find them less than helpful, and want to know simply, “What should my child be able to do at this age?” That’s the goal of an interesting new project from GreatSchools, the school information megasite for parents. “Milestones” seeks to demystify the standards with a free and engaging collection of short videos in English and Spanish showing what grade-level work looks like in grades K–5. Each short clip shows students with their teachers “demonstrating what success looks like in reading, writing and math, grade by grade.”

Created in collaboration with Student Achievement Partners and the Vermont Writing Collaborative, the videos aren’t comprehensive—not every single standard is represented (the audience is parents, not teachers). But each segment is tightly focused, clear, and explicit: “Does your second grader read smoothly like this?” asks one. “Does your fourth grader understand how to compare fractions?” And so on.

A few of the videos seem advanced well beyond what Common Core expects. For example, one segment shows a kindergartener independently decoding the words “nectar” and “liquid,” even though the standards expect children to read only simple “emergent reader” books by the end of the year (if your child can only read Hop on Pop by the end of kindergarten, don’t freak out; she’s not behind). Other videos might create the impression that group work is essential to writing (third grade) or that discussing a topic is integral to the writing process (fifth grade). But let’s not quibble too much. The videos are equally likely to quiet some of the misunderstandings about Common Core, such as in a video of a third grader demonstrating her clear command of memorized math facts.

Writing is especially tricky. It is one thing to say that, by the end of the year, your child’s writing will have an introduction with a simple thesis statement, examples that support the thesis, a conclusion, and improved spelling and punctuation. Adding some samples of student writing might give parents a feel for the level of sophistication, clarity, and coherence the standards expect at any given moment.

Milestones remains a work in progress (grades 6–12 are coming), and a promising one. The impulse to show, not tell, what grade-level competence looks and sounds like in a layperson’s terms is the right one—and badly needed to reassure parents concerned about Common Core. It’s not hard to imagine parents all across America clicking their way through this collection—first to assure themselves that there’s nothing unholy about what’s in Common Core, and a second time to ask, “Wait. Can my kid do that?”

SOURCE: “GreatKids Milestones,”, accessed March 10, 2015.

This first appeared on Common Core Watch.

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