Common Core Qualities Live on in State Replacements
- By Dian Schaffhauser
While the Common Core State Standards may have suffered the ignominy of being tossed out by nearly half of the states that originally adopted them, a review of replacement learning standards has established that in most places Common Core characteristics have remained in place. Achieve, the organization behind the original standards, recently issued a report that analyzed English language arts and math standards in the two dozen states that dumped the Common Core in favor of their own standards.
In 2010 45 states adopted the Common Core, which was intended to establish a level of consistency across states in the "content, clarity or rigor of expectations from grade to grade in core reading and mathematics standards," as the report noted. For example, reading standards across grade levels "typically showed little or no progression from grade to grade." And math standards tended to be "a mile wide and an inch deep," as one researcher described them. Topics appeared "haphazardly" throughout the grades.
But as the original intention collided with "mounting political opposition" and protests related to the associated testing and accountability policies, over the next several years, 24 states set about replacing the standards with their own versions. The intention of this latest review was to understand how well those state-specific standards meet the original stated goal of the Common Core — to help prepare young people for college and career readiness.
For each key element, states were rated as strong, moderate or weak/absent. For example, in the area of ELA "foundational skills," in which the standards should promote "phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency in the early grades" and ready students for reading and writing success, almost every state's revised standards were rated as strong. The two exceptions were North Dakota and Oklahoma, assessed as "moderate" because their complexity guidance sets fluency levels lower than they should be, according to the Achieve criteria.
Among the high-level findings for ELA were these:
- In 20 of 24 states, the standards include or have retained the key elements required "to prepare students for citizenship, college and career," such as gaining the skills to cite text in support of their claims and conclusions, to write arguments, to conduct research and to analyze and discuss what they have read.
- Nearly all of the states developed ELA standards that promoted a progression of reading and writing skills from grade to grade; yet the review found that states have addressed the issue of "text complexity" in a variety of ways, some of which might "undermine" the state's work on college and career readiness. One aspect of that is a lack of "clear, explicit guidance" for evaluating appropriate complexity from grade to grade.
- Also, the report found, the renumbering, reordering and revisions to the learning standards has made it difficult for educators to share curriculum and assessment materials across state lines.
In the area of math, most states have maintained their emphasis on arithmetic in grades K–5 and the introduction of concepts for grades 6–8 that will support later study of functions, geometry and statistics in high school.
However, only four states' standards strongly met all 11 of the math indicators for college and career readiness. Another eight states were strong in 10 of 11 indicators. While no state was missing any of the indicators, Indiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina were called out for strong matches to just five or fewer indicators.
The report also suggested that states could do a much better job of making the standards as usable as possible by putting them into single documents that let teachers look at their own grade-level expectations as well as other grades and to refer to specific standards "with ease." Yet, the research project found that some states post their standards in multiple files, "adding layers of complexity and making seeing the whole set of standards at once impossible," since tracking progression for a given concept through all of those files "is particularly cumbersome."
The complete report is openly available on the Achieve website.
Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @schaffhauser.