The Common Core State Standards are a hot topic in the educational world today. Many Milford citizens are curious about the CCSS and want to know more about them. What are they? How do they affect the Milford Public Schools? How will they be implemented? How can parents help?

These and many other questions will provide the structure for a citywide community forum on the Common Core to be held on three nights: Monday, Nov. 11; Wednesday, Nov. 13; and Wednesday, Dec. 4. The same presentation will be delivered on each of the three nights.

All three sessions will be held at Harborside Middle School and will begin at 6:30 p.m. A question and answer session will follow the formal presentation.

Many people in the community have mistakenly been referring to the Common Core as a new curriculum when, in actuality, the CCSS are not a curriculum at all, school officials said.

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, 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.

The items dictated by the CCSS establish what students need to know and be able to do — but they do not dictate how teachers should teach.

“Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of their students in their classrooms,” Bonetti said.

The standards were developed through the collaborative work of thousands of teachers, researchers, school administrators and leading experts in education across the country, not by the federal government. This work was then framed under the name Common Core State Standards and each state in the country had the option to adopt them or not. As of this writing, 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.

“A student in fifth grade in Willimantic will be expected to learn and be able to do the same things as a student in 5th grade in Milford,” Bonetti said. “Further, a student in fifth grade in Missouri will also be expected to learn and be able to do the same things as a fifth grade student in Connecticut. This added consistency will help all students be prepared to the same level of college and career-ready expectations upon graduation, regardless of where they live.”

In order to measure student growth from year to year, a new assessment test will be administered this year that complements the CCSS. The test is called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and will replace the familiar Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) and the Connecticut Academic Performance Test (CAPT).

The assessment is entirely administered via the computer and will be given in Milford in the spring of 2014.

“Questions delivered to a student become increasingly more difficult as the student works through the test,” Bonetti said. “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. A small number of interim assessments will also be given during the school year. This information will clearly help staff adjust their daily work in order to address the needs of their students in real time.”

The Connecticut Dept. of Education (ct.gov/sde) has material available online about the CCSS. Additional materials are also available for parents on the National Parent Teacher Association website (pta.org).