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What is Common Core?

The Common Core State Standards are grade-level standards that raise expectations for all students, kindergarten through 12th grade. More...

How can I help my child meet or exceed standards?

Standards are specific to each grade level. The following resources provide more detail on standards by grade level and tips for parents to help support your child's learning.

Latest News on Common Core...

Read Up + Speak Out + Write On = It All Adds Up

In every subject, students are learning to...

a student writes
  • Understand complex topics
  • Express and build on ideas
  • Collaborate
  • Construct viable arguments
  • Critique others’ reasoning

All of this starts with a practice called close reading. Close reading happens when readers use clues and evidence from a text to answer questions. By reading closely, children are more likely to comprehend the material. This is a very important skill for success in school, college, career and community!

Read Up

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speak up logo
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write on logo
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Here are some examples of questions that build close reading skills:

Finding Key Ideas and Details

  • What happened in the story?
  • How do you know?
  • What is something really important that happened?
  • What does this (word or phrase) mean in the article?

Encouraging words increase a young reader’s motivation and reinforce close reading.

  • “Wow! You know right where to find that information in the story!”
  • “I learned a lot by reading with you.”

Learn more about Read Up

Speak Out and Write On

Close reading doesn’t just help kids become better readers. It also helps them become better communicators—writers, listeners and speakers.

That’s because close reading is intimately connected to argument construction and writing. When students use close reading to thoroughly understand a text—whether a Shakespeare sonnet, a biology text or a lesson on fractions—they can use their knowledge to build strong arguments.

Learn more about Speak Out and Write On

It All Adds Up

Reading closely, constructing viable arguments, critiquing others’ reasoning and using academic language are also practices of proficient math students.

To help students develop these skills, a math teacher might:

  • ask students to explain and discuss their thinking processes aloud
  • use a hand signal to agree or disagree with a strategy
  • give multiple approaches to a problem and ask students describe which ones are rational and why

Errors can be opportunities for learning!

Successful math students can struggle productively and are comfortable changing their approach and trying new strategies if they don’t get the answer right the first time.

Learn more about It All Adds Up

Common Core Grade Level Resources

This document contains a summary of each of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) grade level standards for Language Arts along with ideas for families to help their learners. Each grade is two pages. Click on the image or language below to download the document in that language.

All Grades Parent Roadmap All Grades Parent Roadmap Spanish Language Arts Roadmap Hmong
English                                                      español                                                     lus hmoob


Learn more about the Common Core State Standards in the MMSD

Language = Opportunity

You may have recently heard your child’s teachers mention “Academic language.” What does that really mean? Whether we are aware of it, we all speak several languages. For example, you may talk with your best friend in a way that is different from your banker or clergy. With friends we speak a social language. If you are writing a cover letter for a job application, or delivering a presentation in front of your co-workers, these situations call for a more formal style of speaking and writing.

The style of language used in school, higher education, and fields of study is called “Academic Language”. It has its own structure, phrases and vocabulary.

As the variety of language styles increases, due to cultural diversity, technology and other factors, it is important to explain these differences to our students. Students need to study the rules of “academic language” in order to learn and grow academically, beginning in kindergarten, so they are ready to continue their learning and have access to life’s opportunities after high school. Explicit teaching of academic language has long been a tool for teaching English language learners. Educators now realize these lessons greatly benefit all students.

Here are a few ways to think about these differences:

what academic language is and is not

Recognizing social vs. academic language

When comparing social and academic language, students should look for the following differences:

social vs academic language

Here are a few ways parents can help their children build academic language and expand their understanding of language:

  • Talk with your child’s teacher about the strategies used in your child’s classroom to teach academic language.
  • Point out to your child when you “code-switch,” or use different language styles for different situations.
  • When reading together, ask, “How might the character say that if she were talking to her doctor instead of her friend?”
  • Help your child construct and reconstruct sentences using academic and everyday language.

In our next newsletter we will look at the differences between academic language and academic vocabulary.

Source: A Primer on Academic Language for Art Teachers, Jennifer Childress, Assoc. Professor, Art Education, The College Of Saint Rose

Common Core State Standards: Frequently asked questions

You've probably been hearing a lot of buzz about the Common Core State Standards in your school and in the news. But what does this really mean for you and your child? Let's get back to basics.

The Common Core State Standards promote critical thinking and problem solving--key skills students need to graduate ready for college, career and community. The states that have adopted these educational standards are raising the bar to ensure consistent, high quality teaching and learning across the board. The Common Core State Standards ensure that all students have what they need to be successful after high school.

Download a printable version of these frequently asked questions

What is the Common Core?
Common core magnet The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of academic standards agreed to by 45 states and the District of Columbia. Created for students in kindergarten through 12th grade, CCSS was designed by educators and academic experts, and inspired by standards from the world’s highest-performing countries.

CCSS represent a significant shift in the teaching of English/language arts and math and create an exciting opportunity for transforming schools and learning.

Why now?
The world is changing and the American education system hasn’t kept pace. In a 2012 report, the United States ranked 14th among 37 countries in the percentage of 25- to 34-year-olds with higher education. And too many of today’s high school graduates must take remedial classes to enroll in college courses.

Experts agree that we must retool education to better prepare our students to confront the challenges of an unpredictable and ever-changing future. The vision of the MMSD is to ensure every student is prepared to graduate from high school ready for college, career and community.

With today’s technology, the entire world’s information is at our children’s fingertips. But to be successful in school and careers, our children must learn how to evaluate and use this information to solve difficult problems on their own. They must become thinkers as much as learners. CCSS equip our children with skills needed to adapt and succeed.

What were the standards before?
Before the adoption of CCSS in June 2010, each state developed its own set of standards, creating a wide range of uneven learning experiences and achievements. Moreover, here in Madison, schools across our district do not currently offer students the same educational content, course offerings or program options. CCSS will mean that students’ educational options will be consistent no matter where they live.

How are these standards different from previous state standards?
The primary goal of CCSS is to teach critical thinking and problem solving. Students will become independent thinkers who can create informed opinions, critique the opinions of their peers and their world, defend their arguments with evidence, and communicate their points of view effectively. Students will develop a deeper understanding of key concepts, and be able to apply their knowledge to real-world situations.

How will students learn English/Language Arts?
student and teacher reading Students will read more complex texts, both nonfiction and fiction. They will learn to create written arguments using evidence from multiple texts, gather evidence to defend their opinions, and apply those skills in all subject areas in preparation for college and careers.

CCSS leave most curriculum decisions in the hands of local educators. The only reading explicitly required in the CCSS is the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, a Shakespeare play and one play by an American dramatist.

How will students learn math?
Students will acquire the habit of mathematical thinking. The foundation, which will begin in kindergarten and continue through 12th grade, will give students the building blocks to understand why and how math works in real-world situations. While memorization of math facts is still important, more emphasis will be placed on true comprehension.

How will this affect teaching?
CCSS offers teachers the opportunity to teach content more deeply, and allows them more time to help students to master critical skills. In a recent survey of math teachers in states that have adopted CCSS, more than 90% say they like the idea of the new standards.

How will my child be tested on the CCSS?
Beginning in the 2014–15 school year, students in the MMSD will take a new standardized test called Smarter Balanced. This test focuses on developing richer, more authentic measures of student learning, and will provide teachers with relevant, precise, and actionable information to improve student performance.

As a parent, what can I do to help my child succeed?
Read! Read with your child and encourage your child to read. Reading is the gateway to all learning. Learn more about the CCSS at Your school may offer workshops for parents to provide strategies for how to help your child benefit from this educational shift.

Every school a thriving school, every student ready for college, career & community banner

Go deep into non-fiction

student reading with teacherTeachers and parents can inspire in students a love of reading that will serve them throughout their entire life. Being a good reader is one of the most important skills for college, career and community readiness.

In language arts classes of the past, students were often asked to read fiction, or stories. While this exposure to literature is wonderfully enriching, the standards address a broad range of skills in areas where children have been lagging. The Common Core State Standards encourage a balance of fiction and non-fiction reading. "Fiction" writing is based on information that is imaginary or not real, such as fairy tales or chapter books, while "non-fiction" writing describes real events and people, like you see in the newspaper or history books. This shift is a reflection of the demands children will face in college, the workforce and their communities.

Everyday opportunities for non-fiction reading:

- Instructions for playing a game
- Newspapers and magazines
- Recipes for a favorite dessert
- Billboards while in the car

The Common Core State Standards for language arts get students reading deeply and connecting with what they have read. The standards outline what children will learn in reading, writing and speaking. The new standards include every aspect of literacy.

Here are some ways you can help your child become a skilled reader of non-fiction materials:

  1. What are your child's interests? A child's interests are a natural springboard to non-fiction reading. Help your child find non-fiction books and resources in their areas of interest.
  2. Take note of all the ways your child is already using non-fiction text: looking up information on the computer, following a recipe or following directions.
  3. Ask your child questions that require them to read closely and carefully to find the answers: What did you learn about? What does the newspaper article say about that? Show me what your instructions say? What is the big idea of this book?

Reading, writing and oral language, in their many forms, can be fun opportunities for learning and spending time together. By understanding the Common Core State Standards you can get ideas for making reading time more meaningful. For more information on the Common Core and ideas on how you can be involved in your child’s learning, visit

Magnets attract attention to Common Core State Standards

student pointing to this new magnetHere's how a quick glance at your refrigerator magnet can help you boost your child's learning.

You're preparing dinner. Your son bursts into the kitchen to express his excitement about an upcoming birthday party. Posted on your refrigerator is an at-a-glance list of your son's grade-level standards in language arts, held in place by a magnet that reads, Get More from the Common Core. The list reminds you to use your child's excitement to fuel a learning opportunity.

For example, in first grade, children will learn to retell stories, using details, and be able to answer questions based on what they have read. So while you're chopping vegetables you ask, "Does the invitation say where the party will be?" or "What kind of party is it? Does the invitation say you should bring anything?" Your child rereads the invitation, summarizes the facts he has read, and even makes a few inferences!

picture of the magnetBy understanding what is expected in the Common Core State Standards, an everyday conversation with your child can become a simple, yet powerful way to support your child’s learning.

Get More from the Common Core magnets and at-a-glance summaries of grade level language arts standards are available now at all MMSD elementary schools. Many schools will be distributing them at school events such as literacy nights—contact your school to learn how you can receive yours. Through great teachers and involved families our students will be college, career and community ready.

For more information on the Common Core State Standards, visit

Why should parents learn about Common Core English Language Arts?

Knowing about Common Core State Standards (CCSS) helps you support your child. Here's how:

The Common Core clarifies grade level expectations for your child.  You can also look at the grade levels behind and ahead to see the progression of skills on the continuum. This can help you support your child in learning at home.

Look for the key items your child should be working on at each grade level. Ask at your school about these items. Talk to your child about these items at home and reinforce them with reading and discussion.

Mostly, be excited about reading with your child. It is fun! Talk about books, magazines, and articles. You are the best model for a lifelong love of literacy.

At your parent/teacher conference you received a summary of your child's grade level standards with suggestions for how to work with your child to reach the standards. In addition, you received a "Parent's Introduction to the Common Core State Standards" which answers frequently asked questions. These are handy references that will help you better understand your child's path to college, career and community readiness.

How CCSS for English Language Arts and Literacy are structured:

The Common Core is divided into three main sections, a K-5 section and two 6-12 sections, one for English Language Arts and one for Literacy in History, Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.

Each section is made up of strands. The K-5 and 6-12 sections have the same strands for English Language Arts: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language, with one addition to K-5, the Foundational Skills. In 6-12, the strands for Literacy in the subject areas are Reading and Writing.

Each strand is headed by an Anchor Standard. This standard defines what students should be able to do by grade 12. Each grade level details the skills the student must accomplish, increasing in difficulty each year, to reach success by grade 12.

The Common Core is elegant in its simplicity; it is focused and coherent, and it empowers students to be deep thinkers and analyze what they are reading in literature and non-fiction.

Visit for what your child needs to know in English Language Arts grades K-12.

Common Core State Standards: Why are they important?

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) will support focus and consistency of great teaching and learning across schools in Madison. Your child will thrive as our community embarks on this new challenge.

A 3rd grade language arts
student will learn...
  • how to read a wide range of stories and describe how a story teaches a lesson
  • how to describe characters in a story and how their actions contributed to events
  • the rules of spoken and written English
  • to gather information from books, articles, and online sources to build understanding of a topic

The Common Core State Standards are important because they will outline what your child must know and demonstrate in each grade level in order to be college, career and community ready in literacy and math by the end of high school. This year, Madison Schools have initiated a three-year plan to implement the Common Core.

Here are some highlights:

  • The Common Core is focused. There are fewer standards so teachers can target deep understanding.
  • The Common Core is aligned to post-secondary expectations like college or career training. Upon graduating from high school, students will be ready for success.
  • The Common Core sets the bar high for each grade, challenging students to think critically and solve problems.

With great teachers and parents, the Common Core will help every student achieve high expectations and be ready for life after high school. Parents will receive grade-specific information on the Common Core at parent/teacher conferences in November.

As a teacher, I like the Common Core because I get to bring my expertise and knowledge of my students to the classroom as I think about the best way to meet the standards. - Lachele Greenlee, Hawthorne Teacher

I’m glad we set the bar higher. I like knowing that the standards of my child’s education are comparable to the world around us. - Emily Berggren, Marquette Parent

For more on the Common Core State Standards, go to

Ed Hughes on the Common Core

Ed HughesOn Saturday, September 28, the Madison School Board held the first of our quarterly board retreats. We get together on a Saturday for an extended discussion of a few topics of particular interest. Our focus this time was on the much-misunderstood Common Core academic standards for literacy and math.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are the product of an initiative undertaken by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The groups assembled a team of teachers, school administrators, and other experts to work out a set of English and math standards for students from kindergarten through high school. (The plan calls for eventually developing similar standards for other subjects, like social studies and science.) Wisconsin was one of the first states to adopt the Common Core State Standards for math and English.

The discussion at our board retreat focused on the English Language Arts and Literacy standards. They consist of an extensive and highly structured listing of skills related to literacy that students should master by the end of each grade. The skills build on each other – the standards for writing for seventh grade students, for example, call for more sophisticated skills than the similar standards for sixth grade students, but build on those sixth grade skills and presuppose that seventh grade students have mastered them.

Here is an example of a writing skill for students in seventh grade: “Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization and analysis of relevant content.”

Here is another writing skill for seventh grade students that elaborates on the first skill: “Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables) and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.”

As this second example illustrates, the Common Core State Standards emphasize research skills and the presentation of information through means other than written text, such as tables, charts and multimedia.

The standards are written in terms of results – skills students should have mastered. They don’t tell teachers how to teach, any more than a listing of the skills needed to pass a driver’s license test determines what happens in a driver’s ed course. Nor do the standards prescribe required textbooks or other learning materials.

In general, the standards accelerate the teaching of skills so that our students will be learning them in earlier grades than is currently the case. There is also much more emphasis on what is called content-rich nonfiction and informational texts.

The standards are designed to empower students to:

  • Demonstrate independent and self-directed learning
  • Value evidence, reason logically, and think conceptually and abstractly
  • Analyze and use data
  • Comprehend as well as critique
  • Construct and present viable arguments
  • Use media and technology strategically
  • Persevere in making sense of and solving problems
  • Understand and appreciate different perspectives and cultures
  • Develop the skills and dispositions necessary to the responsible exercise of citizenship in an advanced democratic republic

The Common Core State Standards cannot simply be plugged into our current curriculum. We’re working on a three-year plan for implementation of the standards in the district. This year, the first of three, we’ll work on teachers gaining a deep understanding of the standards and the shifts in instruction that they will require. Next year, groups of teachers will work on developing plans for units of study that are aligned with the standards. During the 2015-16,school year, we’ll work with and refine the aligned units of study and associated ways of measuring students’ mastery of the standards.

While the Common Core State Standards identify the skills that students should be learning, they say nothing about how those skills should be taught. We as a district have also begun work on a teaching strategy known as "Close Reading" within a Gradual Release of Responsibility model where the responsibility for learning is shifted from the teacher to the student. This gradual release model supports students becoming independent learners, capable of being successful on their own with increasingly complex texts.

During the retreat, we had a hands-on example of a lesson on the close reading of a text, in this case an eight-grade level science text on measuring water quality. Thankfully, board members’ work on the assignment was not graded.

The focus of close reading is to empower students to read a relatively complex, factually dense text and both master its factual content and draw logical inferences from that content. (It was observed that “close thinking” might be a better description of the task then “close reading.”) An advantage of the exercise is that all the information students need is found in particular text that is being studied. This is a great leveler – no students are advantaged in performing the particular task because their parents have been able to provide them particularly rich experiences outside of the classroom.

A complementary approach to close reading is the instructional practice known as gradual release. This entails enabling students to take more and more control of their learning so that the teachers’ active involvement in their students’ learning of a skill gradually recedes as their students’ facility with the skill increases.

During this school year, our teachers will be working on close reading and gradual release as instructional practices. These are not mandated by the Common Core. But as our teachers increase their mastery of these skills, they will be better positioned both to appreciate the value and logic of the Common Core State Standards and to incorporate the standards into their classroom practice.

There are a number of misperceptions about the Common Core. Indeed, it seems that zealots from right and left have seized on the Common Core State Standards as somehow embodying whatever aspects of K-12 education excite their concern.

First, there is nothing about the standards themselves that requires or necessitates high-stakes testing. There is an effort underway to develop standardized tests, known as Smarter Balanced Assessments, which will be used by states that have adopted the Common Core and that will replace the WKCE in Wisconsin. Since the WKCE has so little utility for us as a test, this would be a good thing. But any effort to attach high-stakes significance to the results of the test or to narrow a school district’s curriculum in order to emphasize just what will be on the test are dangers that are independent of the substance of the tests, let alone independent of the learning standards themselves.

Some observers have pointed out that the efforts to develop the Smarter Balanced Assessment, roll it out, and attach consequences to the test’s results have gotten ahead of the work necessary for teachers to become familiar with the Common Core State Standards and to develop and implement teaching strategies keyed to the new standards. This may be a valid criticism. But it is not a criticism of the standards themselves.

Second, the Common Core does not “federalize” K-12 education. It is up to each individual state whether or not to make use of the standards. In Wisconsin, it is up to individual school districts, though the fact that the Smarter Balanced Assessment will replace the WKCE will certainly provide an impetus to align teaching with what will be on the test. The Common Core State Standards also have nothing to do with what some label as intrusive student data tracking.

I have difficulty grasping what’s behind this Tea Party objection to the Common Core on the ground that it is some sort of federal mandate. Is there something ideologically-tinged about literacy standards or math standards? Do we want states to define their own grammar or proper sentence structure, or enable them to switch to a base-nine number system?

Third, the standards have nothing to do with the dangers of the privatization of our public education system, real though those dangers are. While some companies are likely to profit from developing and scoring the Smarter Balanced Assessments, the idea that the Common Core State Standards are nothing more than a scheme for some big corporations to vacuum up more educational dollars is a notion based far more on paranoia than evidence.

Finally, Governor Walker’s recent statement that the standards are not rigorous enough for Wisconsin probably says more about the governor’s unfamiliarity with the standards than about their relative rigor. The Common Core State Standards are not perfect and could appropriately be the target of a number of valid criticisms. That they lack the minimum rigor necessary for Wisconsin is not among them.

But don’t take my word for it. Check out the Common Core State Standards yourself:

From the Common Core - Dad's lesson in storytelling

A parent asks, “Why should I bother learning about Common Core State Standards (CCSS)? I trust my child’s teachers to do their jobs.” Fact is, the more you know about CCSS the more you will be equipped to help your student thrive in school. Common Core State Standards increase opportunities for parents and caregivers to have meaningful involvement in their child’s education.

The CCSS will ensure that all students have the academic knowledge and skills they need in core subjects to succeed after high school. Since Common Core raises the bar for every student, it’s critical that families help integrate what their children are learning into real-life situations at home.

Here’s an example. A three-year-old boy is looking forward to starting 4K at Emerson Elementary School next year and his father, having read the standards, remembers what is expected of children in kindergarten: CCSS Literacy standard: With prompting and support, retell familiar stories, including key details.

Knowing this gives the boy’s father a natural opportunity to help prepare his son for school. Here's how, according to this dad:

“Whenever my son gets hurt, for example, I ask him to tell me what happened. I encourage him to use complete sentences. I’ll ask him to repeat the story to other family members and maybe also to a stuffed animal. He usually likes to repeat the story anyway and I prompt him to give more details each time he tells the story. Knowing this standard helps me to be more intentional in my day-to-day interactions with him.”

Through the year, we hope to equip you with the tools to know what the Common Core means to your student and how you can support his or her learning.

For more information on the Common Core State Standards and to download a Parent Roadmap from the Council of Great City Schools for both Language Arts and Math, visit this page.

Common Core State Standards = Opportunity

high school students

The Common Core State Standards will raise the level of challenge in the classroom for our students more than ever. We encourage parents and caregivers, our students' first teachers, to explore the standards with us as we put a set of essential practices into place that challenge our young people to read, write, think critically and solve complex problems. That is what it takes to be ready for the next grade and life after high school.

COMMON CORE STANDARDS: Parent Roadmaps from the Council of Great City Schools

English Language
Arts Standards


The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, are a set of K-12 learning standards in mathematics and English language arts that will ensure that all students have the academic knowledge and skills they need in these core subjects to succeed after high school.

The Common Core State Standards are based on the concept of

“College, Career & Community Readiness.”

In Madison, we also talk about “Community Readiness.”

Superintendent Cheatham describes the
Common Core State Standards as an
“incredible opportunity.”

Strategic Framework Logo

Understanding these phrases is important to understanding the standards. The goal is to provide an education that prepares all students for whatever the future may bring. Our path to adulthood was quite different from the path our children will take. Evidence points to the need for a rigorous change in education in order to navigate that path.

What is “COLLEGE” ready?

More than just pursuing a four-year degree at a university, “college-ready” means being prepared for any higher education, whether a two-year certification, four-year diploma or apprenticeship. Our kids need English and mathematics knowledge and skills necessary to qualify for and succeed in college-level coursework.

What is “CAREER” ready?

A career is not just a job. A career provides a family-sustaining wage and pathways to advancement. A career requires training or education after high school, and an understanding of the pathways to professions, workplace skills, education and experience.

What is “COMMUNITY” ready?

We recognize that education, career goals and an understanding of how to get there, will only take our young people so far. They need a foundation of strong interpersonal skills, and life-enhancing attributes such as tenacity, a good work ethic and resilience. Students need to be culturally conscious, and at-ease living successfully in a diverse world. Young people with physical and cognitive challenges need everyday living skills and opportunities that allow them to live up to their potential.

The goal of the Common Core State Standards is to launch our young people, upon high school graduation, into their next phase of learning, where they are prepared to take advantage of and explore life’s offerings.

In our next newsletter we will take a more detailed look into various aspects of the Common Core State Standards and how they are beginning to create a culture of excellence in our schools. For more on the standards go to

Parents' Guide to School Success

national PTA document image

The National PTA has developed a series of grade-level guides to help parents better understand what is expected of their child according to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). You will see a raising of expectations for learning for all children as we transition to align curriculum to the standards. You can find materials and FAQ about the CCSS at Check this site on a regular basis for new information as MMSD continues to improve both instruction and outcomes for students through the Common Core State Standards.

New standards for math and science

2 students taking a testIn Wisconsin, high school students graduating at the end of the 2016-2017 school year will need more math and science credits in order to graduate.

Governor Scott Walker signed a bill on Dec. 11th that increases the number of science and math credits from two to three for both subject areas. For the 2013 graduating classes in the district, 18 percent of district graduates only took the minimum two credits each of science and math.

The measure would give schools flexibility to award math and science credits to students who are in career and technical education programs.

This bill’s adoption aligns with Common Core State Standards currently being implemented in all public schools. Surrounding states already have these same math and science requirements.

If you or your child has any questions about these additional credits, please contact your high school counselor.