Frequently Asked Questions


  • The vision of the Mercer Island School District is that our students will thrive in the cognitive, global, and digital world while sustaining their passion and inspiration for learning. jamie.prescott@mercerislandschools.org Success beyond high school looks different than it did in the 20th century. A 21st-century education requires students to convert information into knowledge and to create innovative solutions for problems that we have yet to address or encounter. Rigorous learning standards are critical to supporting our students in being able to reach those goals in tomorrow’s world.

    What are the Common Core State Standards?

    The CCSS outline grade level goals in math and English language arts (ELA) for all K-12 students. The goals are designed to prepare students for the advanced literacy skills needed for college, career success and to compete in the global economy. The CCSS communicate what is expected of students at each grade level. Until now every state had different learning standards. CCSS bring consistency among districts and states and increase the rigor of the learning goals.

    Common standards allow for collaboration among states on best practices and professional development. The standards are the result of a state-led initiative overseen by organizations of the nation's governors and state education commissioners. Hundreds of teachers, education researchers, mathematicians, and other experts across the country collaborated in developing the CCSS. Most states and the District of Columbia have adopted the CCSS.

    WestMercerMIHS The Common Core State Standards have been developed to be:

    • clearly focused on fewer and higher standards;
    • aligned with college and career expectations, so that all students are prepared for success upon graduating from high school;
    • inclusive of rigorous content and applications of knowledge through higher-order skills;
    • internationally benchmarked, so that all students are prepared for succeeding in our global economy and society; and
    • research and evidence-based.

    A common set of standards ensures that all students, no matter where they live, will be focused on graduating from high school prepared for post-secondary education and careers.

    Major Shifts in Math

    • Greater Focus: Common Core dives deeper into key concepts, such as fractions and proportions, to ensure students establish a strong foundation before moving to the next level of difficulty. More focus allows students to apply what they are learning to real-world math problems.
    • Coherence: Common Core asks students to connect back to learning they have previously mastered in order to reinforce concepts and see mathematics as a subject that makes sense.
    • Rigor: Common Core requires a balance of conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and real-world application. Although memorization is required, students will also be asked to work beyond memorization and communicate the thinking behind answers.

    Major Shifts in English Language Arts

    • Include more informational text: Students will still read fiction and literary classics, and will also be asked to read and understand non-fiction informational texts like the Gettysburg Address in English or history class or a scientific article in biology or chemistry class. The majority of required reading in college and the workplace is non-fiction informational text, so this change will help prepare students for the next step.
    • Focus on literacy in all content areas: All teachers of specific content areas, such as history or science, are expected to instruct students on how to be master readers in their subject. This is also called "disciplinary literacy."
    • Expose students to more complex texts: A student's ability to read complex text determines his/her college readiness more than any other factor.
    • Develop evidence-based, opinion and argumentative writing: Students will be able to write in a clear, concise, and compelling manner, just as they will in college and the workplace.

    Why do we need standardized tests like our state exams or Smarter Balanced?

    Standardized tests serve as independent, objective measures of how students are doing. Clear, understandable test scores help teachers and parents work together to adjust their approach and better meet students’ needs. Standardized tests also provide data that we use to determine, for example, what’s working in special education, or whether race-or income-based achievement gaps continue to persist.

    Does the Smarter Balanced Assessment impact students in grades 3-12?

    Scores are expected to be returned to schools this spring. The Smarter Balanced score sheets will allow families to chart students' grade-level growth over the years. Score numbers will range from 2,000 to 3,000, with achievement levels from 1-4. Teachers and community members, including Mercer Island teachers, helped set these levels using data from 2014 field tests involving more than three million students, including Mercer Island students.

    Smarter Balanced is different enough that scores cannot be accurately compared to those of previous state tests, but families may be tempted to compare them anyway, especially if a student's level changes. Remember that scoring shifts are normal whenever more rigorous academics and their assessments are introduced; teachers and students need time to adjust. Please know that this year’s scores will be viewed as a new baseline that will help our teachers (and families) measure future growth.

    Graduation requirements for the class of 2019 and beyond can be reviewed through this website from the State Board of Education.