Since 1893, national leaders have been wrestling with what students ought to know and when, school officials told a large group of parents who gathered to learn about Common Core State Standards (CCSS) recently at Harborside Middle School.

The session was part of a series aimed at letting parents know more about the standards, which are being phased in here and in other parts of the country.

Basically, the CCSS are a set of expectations of what students should know and be able to do, K-12, in the areas of English, language arts and mathematics. The standards are rigorous and concise and target the essential skills needed to be college and/or career ready by the time a student graduates from high school.

“These standards dovetail from one grade to the next in sequence — so future learning is supported by the learning already achieved,” school spokesman Kathy Bonetti said in a press release announcing the CCSS session.

In June 2008, governors in the United States got together and requested common standards that would be linked to what colleges and industry look for in graduates. Assistant Superintendent Michael Cummings explained that when standards were developed many years ago, the average student was different and had different goals than students do today.

Movers and shakers behind the Common Core State Standards decided that students needed to learn fewer standards in math and English/language arts but to delve more deeply into those standards.

At the same time, officials realized that states were all setting different educational goals, said school Superintendent Elizabeth Feser, and leaders decided there should be common standards so students in one state would be mastering the same skills at the same time as students in another state.

So far, 46 states have adopted the CCSS.

Because the standards are universal to the states that adopt them, school districts will no longer live in isolation from each other, according to school officials.

“These standards communicate what is expected of students at each grade level, placing students, parents, teachers, and school administrators all on the same page,” according to school handouts.

Cummings said the move to Common Core State Standards does not mean students across the country will be taking the same tests and doing the same activities. It just means students will be following the same benchmarks in terms of what they learn and at what grade level they learn it.

Schools will still be developing their own curriculum to help students reach those goals, Cummings said.

“One of the common misconceptions is that what is old is left behind,” Cummings said.

But that isn’t true. There will be a focus on classic literature, as well as nonfiction material.

In some cases, the work will be more rigorous.

“Reflected throughout the standards is an understanding that to become highly literate, students need to experience an integrated model of literacy,” according to a handout. “Reading, writing, speaking, and listening are very important in helping students communicate well. Parents will find that there is more attention placed on writing and on developing a synthesis of information and critical essays than in the past.”

For example, Cummings said, as opposed to reading one article on a subject from a textbook, students may be presented with several articles on the subject from different sources so they get a deeper understanding of the topic.

In math, the focus will be on helping students conceptualize processes at an earlier age so they can move more deeply into mathematical concepts, Cummings said.

Students will no longer be taking the CMT and CAPT to test their knowledge, except in science, but rather will be tested here with tests created by Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC. The new tests will be computerized, and are expected to be used here next year.

According to Cummings, the test will have “modifications built in,” so that students with special test accommodations will access them when they log onto their computer.

Also, the tests will be somewhat different for each student. Cummings said that one answer will trigger the next question in some cases so “by the third or fourth question, they’re taking a different test.”

Questions delivered to a student become increasingly more difficult as the student works through the test,” according to Bonetti.

“The resulting data is extremely powerful for teachers and staff, as it shows them instantly how far a student can go until they are stuck,” Bonetti said.

The Connecticut Department of Education (ct.gov/sde) has material available online about the CCSS. Additional materials are available for parents on the National Parent Teacher Association website (pta.org) and the local school website, milforded.org.