First-Rate Common Core Coverage
In recent weeks, the Education Writers Association has had a hand in rolling out news stories and resources that get to the heart of how much Common Core standards and assessments will cost, who's funding them, how classroom instruction will change and whether teachers are prepared for these new expectations:
- We've aggregated stories from nine states on what's the what with Common Core, from finances to implementation;
- In November of 2013 we held a one-day seminar on all things Core. Check out some of the stories the event helped generate;
- How will the standards affect classroom instruction? We hosted a webinar with eminent speakers to find out;
- Ran out of tunes to jog to? Don't skip a Common Core beat by listening to a podcast on the standards, recorded during EWA's National Seminar at Stanford this past May.
The Push for Common Standards
For the past decade or more, U.S. political and corporate leaders have been making the case that American workers need a more sophisticated set of skills to keep pace with an increasingly knowledge-based global economy. According to a 2010 Georgetown University study, more than 60 percent of U.S. job openings in 2018 will require at least some college education. To earn those credentials, experts say, more students will need to complete high school with a deeper understanding of the subjects they study.
Enter Common Core, formally known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Announced in 2009, the initiative aims to prepare students for the 21st-century labor force by erecting instructional signposts that guide them toward graduating from high school ready for college and careers. The project is two-fold, involving academic standards drafted by subject-matter experts as well as assessments that measure how well students have mastered the standards.
Among the factors seen as lending momentum to the common standards movement is the wide variation in expectations and performance among states. Another factor is the lackluster performance by U.S. students on international assessments – particularly the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) – fueling concerns about U.S. students’ preparation to compete in a global economy.
As of March 2013, 46 states plus the District of Columbia had agreed to adopt the Common Core State Standards, which aim to spell out what students should know and be able to do in reading and mathematics throughout their K-12 education careers. Not all the participating states adopted both the math and English language arts portions of the Common Core; Minnesota elected to use its own math standards.
Development of the Common Core State Standards was spearheaded by the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and the nonprofit group Achieve, using private grant funding. Under the initiative, groups have organized to develop standards in mathematics and English language arts, as well as standards for literacy in the sciences and social studies.
Meanwhile, two interstate consortia are creating related assessments, which are slated to be fully implemented in 2014-15 with math and English language arts components for grade 3 through high school. Those consortia are the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), managed by Achieve, and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), managed by WestEd. The process of building the assessments was funded through $360 million from the U.S. Department of Education with money from the federal economic-stimulus act of 2009. Each consortia has a state fiscal agent, as well. PARCC operates out of Maryland ( Florida relinquished its fiscal agent role in the summer of 2013), while SBAC is nested in Washington state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Each consortium needed at least 15 member states to receive the initial federal dollars, though it's unclear what the Department of Education would do if a consortium fell below 15 states now that the money has been awarded.
A separate effort is under way to develop science standards for the nation’s schools. In addition to Achieve, that initiative involves the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Science Teachers Association. As of March 2013, 26 states had signed on to use the new instructional roadmaps, known as the Next Generation Science Standards. The final draft of those standards was due to be made public in March 2013.
Among the designers’ chief goals is to integrate science education so that students understand how each subject relates to the other. The new standards come amid concerns that science has received short shrift in American schools in recent years. According to a 2009 Center on Education Policy report, half of all districts had cut elementary science instruction by 75 minutes a week or more since the No Child Left Behind was enacted.
(For more information on the Next Generation Science Standards, see the section on STEM education on EWA’s Story Starters.)
Backers of the Common Core have taken pains to stress that the standards were developed by states, not the federal government. Some political groups argue otherwise, however. They point to the federal government’s seed money for the Common Core assessments and various U.S. Department of Education incentives for states to adopt college and career-ready standards, seen by critics as a nod to the Common Core.
Education experts also debate how much the Common Core Standards differ from standards currently in place. A 2011 Center on Education Policy survey of more than 300 school districts in the participating states found that roughly 60 percent of respondents believed the Common Core Standards are more rigorous than the ones they have been using. Common Core allows some flexibility for states: States can add up to 15 percent of their own material to the standards.
A review by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute concluded that roughly two-thirds of the participating states will improve their standards by adopting the Common Core. Yet some experts have questioned that conclusion. Likewise, some studies, including a recent Brookings Institution report, have raised questions about whether the standards will have much impact on student achievement.
Among the concerns some critics of the standards have raised is the question of whether the standards-writers have strayed from content into pedagogy. Some critics have taken aim at the “publisher’s criteria,” which guide the development of curricular and instructional materials based on the standards, saying that the criteria include specific instructions on how teachers should lead lessons. And some educational publishers have faced criticism for claims that their materials are aligned with the common standards. Two professors from Duke University and Northwestern University proposed a “Consumer Reports”-styled portal that would set guidelines and help validate the claims made by education product developers.
Even strong supporters of the initiative acknowledge that how states and districts implement the common standards and assessments will make all the difference in how they affect students and schools. Various groups have issued tips and talking points on how to roll out the new material. Primers are available for elementary and high school leaders. The makers of the Common Core have also drafted accommodations for English-language learners and students with disabilities.
If standards are only as good as the assessments meant to measure them, Common Core supporters were buoyed by a recent study by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST). The center, based at University of California, Los Angeles, concluded that the consortia have the potential to create models for tests that are more intellectually demanding than what states currently use to gauge student knowledge. Meanwhile, critics of testing, such as FairTest, have sharply criticized the Common Core’s emphasis on testing.
The increased rigor of exams aligned to the Common Core Standards could have far-reaching consequences in the classroom, as teachers seek to prepare students for the assessments. And how students ultimately perform on those tests could breed its own set of consequences. In Kentucky, an early adopter of the Common Core standards, student scores dropped sharply in 2012 after the state administered tests aligned with the standards. As many more states move to common assessments, some education experts fear that public support for the standards may erode as passing rates fall.
Whether such concerns are borne out may well depend on where the “cut scores,” or standards for achievement, are set. States participating in the Common Core assessment consortia have agreed to use common cut scores, enabling them to measure their students’ achievement on the tests against a shared yardstick. Indeed, supporters cite the ability to compare states’ scores as one reason the common tests will be an improvement over the status quo.
The two consortia have set different deadlines for setting cut scores. SBAC expects to settle on a shared benchmark for its member states in the summer of 2014. PARCC’s expects its member states to establish shared cut scores in 2015. The two consortia have formed a team to work on comparing the cut scores from the two assessment programs; the group is coordinated by the CCSSO with input from the NGA. The test makers plan to have the assessments ready for districts to use in the 2014-15 school year.
The two consortia plan to offer several “formative assessments” for grades 3-8 and 11 to be given over the course of each school year before the high-stakes “summative” tests. The periodic testing is designed to allow teachers to better target student weaknesses ahead of end-of-year exams.
While SBAC plans to issue summative tests to high schoolers in grade 11, PARCC plans tests for grades 9-11. PARCC details its kindergarten through high school assessments here. Blueprints for the PARCC test material suggest speaking and listening components will be featured, with students being asked to write critical essays and examinations for the ELA portions. SBAC, meanwhile, is in the process of assembling thousands of test items and tasks to be used for trial runs in 2013. The consortium explains its assessment goals and comments on its organizational structure here.
The assessments will be administered digitally, so new protocols for test security are likely on the horizon. To give schools time to adjust to the computerized format, SBAC will develop paper-and-pencil assessments in the three years following 2014-15. Its tests will also fluctuate in difficulty based on the student’s answers, in an approach known as computer-adaptive testing. The tests developed by the consorta will vary in the length of time students will need to complete the assessments, but estimates have ranged from 7.5 to 10 hours over multiple testing periods.
When reporting on your state's relationship with either of the two testing consortia, keep in mind there are numerous afilliatiations a state may have with the assessment groups. For one, the two consortia are not the only players in the Common Core assessment game. In recent months testing giant ACT has aggressively pushed its suite of tests as an alternative to PARCC and SBAC. Tremors across the education landscape were felt when Alabama ditched the two consortia and adopted ACT's battery of exams. However, a state can ditch a consortium's tests but still hold on to its consortia membership. Oklahoma announced in July it will be adopting its own tests, though has maintained its PARCC membership. And sometimes the changes are pauses in implementation that are responses to political winds. Indiana in June placed a moratorium on its Common Core rollout plans. Florida announced in September it will be curtailing its participation by nixing its role as the fiscal agent of PARCC. Other states that've changed their consortium relationships include Georgia, which in July announced it was leaving PARCC to form its own tests. Utah decided to part with its consortium, SBAC, in 2012. Watch out for that 15-state threshold as states consider opting out--the validity of the consortium could be called into question and costs may inch upward as more states drop out. - Mikhail Zinshteyn, March 2013 (Last Update: 11/21/2013)
Highlighted journalism and reports for this topic
Can the Common Core State Standards transform teaching and raise student achievement? EWA and The Hechinger Report looked at seven states in depth: California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee.Read More »
Liberty’s emphasis on inquiry-based learning is relatively new, and it comes courtesy of the Common Core State Standards, which Kentucky adopted three years ago. Since then, Barrows, Cash, and other teachers across the state have focused on new concepts and trained in new teaching methods. Yet, Kentucky has still not seen a substantial increase in test scores—the yardstick that the success of the new standards will ultimately be measured on. (The Atlantic)Read More »
Almost all the states and Washington, D.C., are grappling with a big challenge as the new school year nears: getting teachers up to speed on the Common Core, a sweeping set of new education standards for English language arts and math.
The Common Core will soon apply to most of America's students from kindergarten through high school. The policymakers behind the Core know that it could fail if they don't help teachers make the change. So this summer, the state of Maryland has been hosting what it calls "academies" to do just that. (NPR)Read More »
A growing movement of national resistance to the common core threatens to derail a movement that many Wisconsin education leaders say is a big step forward for the state. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)Read More »
Tea party groups over the past few weeks have suddenly and successfully pressured Republican governors to reassess their support for a rare bipartisan initiative backed by President Obama to overhaul the nation’s public schools. (The Washington Post)Read More »
Some states are pushing back against a set of uniform benchmarks for reading, writing and math that have been fully adopted in most states and are being widely put in place this school year. (Associated Press)Read More »
Takeaways from three-part series of interviews on the nation’s move to Common Core-aligned assessments (Thomas B. Fordham Institute)Read More »
Common Core standards are aimed at building students' critical thinking skills, and 46 states have adopted them. But critics say the methods are unproven and the education reform is moving too fast. (The Christian Science Monitor)Read More »
Supporters of the Common Core State Standards are moving to confront increasingly high-profile opposition to the standards at the state and national levels by rallying the private sector and initiating coordinated public relations and advertising campaigns as schools continue implementation. (Education Week)Read More »
Florida has been one of the leading participants in designing assessments for the Common Core State Standards. But now its top education official is saying the state might pull out of that work and choose another suite of tests. (Education Week)Read More »
It will cost about $56 million to buy new textbooks and other materials to help New York City public school students meet rigorous academic standards adopted by most states, city officials announced at a news conference on Thursday.
The costs are not unexpected, because the state signed on for the so-called Common Core standards in 2010. But they drew a round of scrutiny at a time of austere budgeting, particularly as the city is facing a possible decline in state and federal aid. (The New York Times)Read More »
As a majority of the nation’s schools prepare to adopt the new Common Core State Standards, the tests that will assess how much students actually know are coming under increased scrutiny. A new study that looks at the progress of building those tests suggests acing the exams could get a lot harder.Read More »
The National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST) at University of California, Los Angeles has a new report out today, concluding the groups picked to design the assessments tied to the Common Core have the potential to create models that are more intellectually demanding than what states currently use to gauge student knowledge. (EdMedia Commons)
Even as the Common Core State Standards are being put into practice across most of the country, nearly half of teachers feel unprepared to teach them, especially to disadvantaged students, according to a new survey. (Education Week)Read More »
“As states across the country implement broad changes in curriculum from kindergarten through high school, English teachers worry that they will have to replace the dog-eared novels they love with historical documents and nonfiction texts.
“Proponents of the new standards, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say U.S. students have suffered from a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction, including studies, reports and primary documents. That has left too many students unprepared for the rigors of college and demands of the workplace, experts say.” (The Washington Post)Read More »
From analyzing text features, to citing evidence, to de-emphasizing personal responses to readings, such changes nod in the direction of the Common Core State Standards' English/language arts expectations.
All three of the major K-12 educational publishers have unveiled new basal-reading programs that purport to embody the standards, and supplemented older series, in order to claim that their products are "aligned," "compliant," or "coherent" with the common standards.
Yet a crucial question remains: Are the changes sufficient? (Education Week)Read More »
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Reports & Data
Notable research on this topic
We propose that working on foundational skills related to the Common Core standards is a necessary component of mathematics instruction for students with MD, and we provide teachers with a framework for working on foundational skills concurrent with the Common Core standards. We caution, however, that implementation of the Common Core is in its infancy, and the implications of the Common Core for students with MD need to be monitored carefully.Read More »
The Common Core State Standards spell out the sophisticated language competencies that students willOctober 1, 2012
The Common Core State Standards spell out the sophisticated language competencies that students will need to perform in academic and technical subject areas. English language learners (ELLs) face a double challenge--they must learn grade-level content while simultaneously building their language proficiency. This policy brief discusses these challenges, highlights initiatives and strategies to advance ELLs' language and content learning, and outlines how policy and practice must change to help ELLs graduate ready for college and a career.Read More »
In this work, we explored the relationship of the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics (CCSSM) to student achievement. Building on techniques developed for the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), we found a very high degree of similarity between CCSSM and the standards of the highest-achieving nations on the 1995 TIMSS. A similar analysis revealed wide variation in the proximity of state standards in effect in 2009 to the CCSSM. Finally, we used regression and analysis of covariance techniques to assess the relationship between the proximity of a state’s standards to the CCSSM and performance on the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). After adjusting for cut-points on state assessments and controlling for state demographics related to socioeconomic status and poverty, we found that states with standards more like the CCSSM, on average, had higher NAEP scores.Read More »
Despite all the money and effort devoted to developing the Common Core State Standards—not to mention the simmering controversy over their adoption in several states—the study foresees little to no impact on student learning. That conclusion is based on analyzing states’ past experience with standards and examining several years of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).Read More »
This report, based on a fall 2011 survey of 35 Common Core State Standards-adopting states (including the District of Columbia), examines states’ progress in transitioning the new standards. The vast majority of the states in the survey believe that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are more rigorous than previous state academic standards in math and English language arts. The vast majority of survey states are taking steps to familiarize state and district officials with the new standards and to align curriculum and assessments. However, most of the states in the survey do not expect to fully implement the standards until 2014-15 or later.Read More »
Five Questions to Ask
1) Has the district or state supplied enough resources to teachers who will be expected to align their instruction with the Common Core standards? What are ELL and special-education teachers saying?
2) Are parents being prepared for the likely decline in student test scores as state assessments align with the Common Core? Who's pre-emptively doing damage control?
3) If your district uses a value-added model to gauge teacher improvement, how will the purported tough tests factor into their scores?
4) How will states meld the tests they have on the books that are NCLB-related and the new exams aligned with the Common Core? Are you seeing a backlash to "over-testing"?
5) The assessments are expected to have a suite of cut scores. While the consortia will settle on their individual cut scores next year, what lobbying are you seeing from districts that have a high percentage of low-performing students who are likely to perform even worse with these new, tougher tests?
Suggest a Change
If you'd like to suggest an addition or change to this section, send an email to EWA Project Director Kenneth Terrell.