Tips for Teaching Common Core Standards

student taking test using positive psychology.jpg

How to set students up for success in an era of standardized tests

Let’s face it: Common Core has been… interesting. Support for the standards from state governments to teacher unions has seemingly fluctuated more than recent weather patterns.

From first being championed as a surefire way to improve rigor and performance across the nation’s schools, to now receiving headlines such as “Common Core still fails US students,” the history of Common Core and its impact are as complicated as they are divisive.

The issue is if you’re a teacher in a state implementing Common Core standards, you’re stuck with them regardless of your opinion. Teachers don’t set public policy, but they certainly have to deal with the repercussions of it. We must teach in the world that is, not necessarily the world that ought to be.

So, how do you teach in the era of Common Core?

  1. Bring Positive Psychology into the classroom

    In my home state of Colorado, the era of Common Core highlights the work needed to be done in order to get more students on grade level. PARCC (the state standardized test) results reveal that 44.5% of students met literacy expectations while only 34.1% of students met expectations in math. Such statistics can certainly pose problems to a student and school community’s self esteem.

    I remember the first time I received a quantified teacher observation. The numbers were lower than I’d hoped for, and it felt like a punch to the gut. Seeing low scores on anything is demoralizing. This is why it is extremely important for teachers to incorporate Positive Psychology activities into the classroom. Short activities, such as journaling what you’re grateful for, visualizing your perfect day, or listing your (non-academic) character strengths, offer students the chance to develop a positive sense of self. In an era of standardized tests, GPAs, and class ranks, it is important for students to understand that their worth cannot be quantified and extends well beyond the classroom.

  2. Provide opportunities to fail... safely

    An interview of students during the 2015-16 school year found that many students “agreed that teachers were pushing them toward ‘higher-order thinking’ thanks to Common Core.” A push toward high-order thinking is going to come with a real struggle. As teachers, if we can de-stigmatize failure, students are in a better position to develop a growth mindset and be willing to struggle.

    This is why I created a retake policy on assessments in my U.S. History class. Students could retake a different test, which assessed them on the same standards, as a way to develop an environment in which learning is a constant, not a one-point measurement. My rationale for allowing retakes was that if a skill is important enough to be assessed, when you master the skill isn’t important (think about how lawyers can retake the bar exam, for example). Imagine if a baseball player evaluated his performance based on one single game, as opposed to an entire season.

    I understand retakes on assessments aren’t for everyone. The important thing is to offer your students low-pressure situations where failure is okay because the focus is not on how you did, but how you grow.

  3. Teach stress management skills

    High-stakes tests and high-rigor lessons can increase student stress. Acknowledging this with students and giving them an opportunity to engage in social & emotional learning can equip students with skills, such as the ability to regulate their emotions, that will last a lifetime. These types of stress management skills can range from mindfulness to positive psychology; the important thing is to offer tangible tools that students can incorporate into their daily lives. For more specific ways to address testing anxiety, check out this article.


About the Author

Brent Modak followed the example set by his grandfather and entered the classroom first as a middle school teacher before moving up to teach high school history. As a member of the ASSET team, Brent helped develop the curriculum and led in the implementation of the program across all of ASSET’s partner schools. When not teaching Brent enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife and newborn baby, Lewis.


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