Vocab activities for your classroom

Common at the Core: The Shared Vocabulary of State Standards for Language Arts

There has been a lot of hubbub over the last few months about states like Oklahoma and South Carolina defecting from the original group of 45 states that had adopted the Common Core State Standards. However, surprisingly little has been said about how educational leaders in Florida have chosen to recast the Common Core's English Language Arts & Literary standards as their own Language Arts Florida Standards (LAFS).

Florida has artfully decided to dodge the political maelstrom associated with the Common Core by essentially giving the standards another title. The implication behind this move is that the ELA standards themselves were not problematic to Florida's educational leaders; it was the "Common" in the Common Core title that people were objecting to.

It would be an interesting turn of events if more people started debating the actual text of the standards rather than the quality of the standardized tests associated with them or the myths that surround them. Even the online annotation site Genius has posted the text of the Common Core standards to invite educators, students, parents, and politicians alike to weigh in with their insights and opinions.

Since we here at Vocabulary.com and the Visual Thesaurus tend to be word-centric, I decided to look at the vocabulary standards enumerated in the CCSS and to compare them to the vocabulary standards from other sets of standards from states that either never adopted the CCSS or from those states that have "rebranded" the Common Core ELA standards as their own. To demonstrate my findings, give the following multiple choice question a shot.

Where can you find the following vocabulary standard:
Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations?
  1. in the Common Core State Standards for ELA & Literacy
  2. in the Iowa Core Literacy Standards
  3. in the Language Arts Florida Standards (LAFS)
  4. in the Minnesota Academic Standards for ELA
  5. in the Indiana Academic Standards for English/Language Arts 
  6. all of the above

If you guessed "f," then you win the prize. The CCSS and the four other sets of state standards listed as choices all use the exact same language to communicate the notion that students should be able to analyze the shades of meaning between words with similar definitions but with different connotations. (For example, thin and scrawny both share a definition related to a lack of excess weight, but the former is usually used as a compliment while the latter is usually used as an insult.) Although Indiana and Minnesota are not "Common Core states," the language of their ELA standards borrows heavily from the CCSS.  

Perhaps vocabulary does not pose the most controversial hot button of the standards movement, but I challenge you to perform similar exercises for other areas commonly addressed in ELA standards. As veteran teacher and author Amy Benjamin wryly posed to me the other day, "Exactly which Common Core standard is it that people object to? The one on identifying 'main idea'?"

It's time to transform the current harmful debate over the CCSS to a more productive discussion on recognizing the incredible overlap between the content of the CCSS and the other sets of state standards and trying to figure out how to accomplish those goals. Unfortunately, if I had to guess, there are probably teams of educators in Oklahoma and South Carolina this summer being paid handsomely to sit in the conference rooms of their respective state education departments to reinvent the wheel on ELA standards, and they are probably using the CCSS as their crib sheet.

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Georgia Scurletis is Director of Curriculum for the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com. Before coming to Thinkmap, she spent 18 years as a curriculum writer and classroom teacher. Georgia has written curriculum materials for a variety of Web sites (WGBH, The New York Times Learning Network, Edsitement) and various school districts. While teaching high school English in Brooklyn, she was a recipient of the New York State English Council's Educators of Excellence Award, the Brooklyn High Schools' Recognition Award, and The New York Times' Teachers Who Make a Difference Award. Click here to read more articles by Georgia Scurletis.