Afterschool Focus: Common Core State Standards

Illinois adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, with schools fully implementing the standards in the 2013-14 school year. Because the standards are still new, many of us working with 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLCs) are still trying to find strategic ways to align afterschool programming with the Common Core while maintaining the unique, engaging environment that both staff and students enjoy. The good news is that many of your afterschool activities are likely already aligned with the Common Core. If you want an example of afterschool programming that is aligned with the Common Core, read this issue’s program profile on East Richland Community School District #1 21st CCLC. To learn more about the Common Core and to find staff development resources for your program, read on.

What Are the Common Core State Standards?

The Common Core State Standards are a state-led initiative that aims to ensure that all students are ready for success after high school by establishing clear, consistent guidelines for what every student should know and be able to do in math and English language arts (ELA) from kindergarten through 12th grade.1 Already implemented in multiple states across the nation, the standards address both content and skills, with a focus on developing the critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills students will need to be successful. Below are some of the main objectives-or “key shifts” in instruction-of the Common Core.

Key Shifts in English Language Arts

  1. Regular practice with complex texts and their academic language

Instead of focusing on reading and writing, Common Core ELA standards “highlight the growing complexity of the texts students must read to be ready for the demands of college, career, and life.”2 There is also an increased focus on academic vocabulary. 

  1. Reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from literary and informational texts

The Common Core ELA standards focus on students’ ability to read carefully and grasp information, arguments, and details based on evidence in the text rather than expecting students to answer questions based on prior knowledge and experience. Similarly, there is a greater emphasis on evidence-based writing and persuasion and the ability to inform and persuade than on narrative writing. 

  1. Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction

The Common Core State Standards have a greater focus on helping students understand an array of nonfiction to develop the general knowledge they need to succeed in college and the workforce.

Key Shifts in Mathematics

  1. Greater focus on fewer topics

The Common Core math standards emphasize depth over breadth, helping students gain strong foundational skills and fluency and the ability to use their mathematical knowledge to solve problems in and out of the classroom. 

  1. Building coherence by linking topics and thinking across grades

Instead of teaching memorization and mnemonics related to a range of disparate topics, math standards aim to help students see the connections between different mathematical concepts and build on prior knowledge. 

  1. Increasing rigor by building conceptual understanding, procedural skills and fluency, and application with equal intensity

According to the standards, “Rigor refers to deep, authentic command of mathematical concepts, not making math harder or introducing topics at earlier grades.”3

What Does Common Core Mean to 21st Century Community Learning Centers

When afterschool practitioners discuss standards, they sometimes worry that they will have to focus all of their time on tutoring and homework help at the expense of the hands-on, project-based learning that staff and students enjoy. This is not the case. In fact, many afterschool enrichment activities naturally align with the Common Core. The engaging activities offered at 21st CCLC programs support the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills outlined in the standards. For example, a program that aims to teach tolerance among students could link to English language arts standards related to cultural understanding and reading literature from a variety of cultures. A drama program provides authentic opportunities for students to explore literature, and a robotics program clearly links to math standards and teaches problem-solving skills.4 These and many other activities are and can be easily aligned to the Common Core. To help unearth the alignment of the Common Core to the activities that you offer, be deliberate about identifying the similarities and connections between the two as you plan activities and work with partners.

Next Steps and Resources

Learn more about the standards.

Learn more about how afterschool programs can support the Common Core.

Explore staff development opportunities.

Engage families in learning more about the standards and supporting learning at home.


1 National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010.
2 NGA,CCSSO, 2010.
3 NGA,CCSSO, 2010.
4 CCSSO, 2010, p. 9; NGA,CCSSO, 2010.


Council of Chief State School Officers. (2011). Connecting high-quality expanded learning opportunities and the Common Core State Standards to advance student success. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from 

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. Common Core State Standards. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington D.C.: National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers. Available from