Currently in use by 45 states, 4 territories, and the District of Columbia (and partially adopted by the State of Minnesota), Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are being adopted in addition to and in the place of other K-12 standards. What are they, where do they come from, and what does this mean for K-12 students going forward?
Common Core State Standards are a series of mathematic and English language arts benchmarks, organized by grade. They are state, rather than federally led or implemented initiatives, led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. For instance, if you click on a subsection of the standards on the CCSS in English Language Arts and you will see statements outlining what students in each grade ought to be able to perform. For example, kindergartners are expected to follow agreed-upon rules for a discussion and must be able to follow a conversation across multiple exchanges in the Speaking & Listening category. In the same category, 7th graders are expected to be able to evaluate the sufficiency and the relevance of evidence given by a speaker. These standard ideas were researched and compared against existing state and international benchmarks before being released in 2010.
The intention of the CCSS is to unify K-12 assessment standards across the states, but also to require more of students than merely answering test questions by rote (they must also be able to explain why their answer is correct and how they arrived at it). The CCSS is intended to lead to better reasoning and problem solving skills by teaching several skills at a time within a larger question, rather than taking on a single skill at a time.
The effects of a massive, unified assessment system are very broad and wide-reaching. For example, the CCSS could define what makes a student “college ready”. Officials currently using the standards report an “unprecedented” level of collaboration and cooperation between post-secondary and K-12 educators as they work to examine the effect of the CCSS on the need for remedial coursework on students entering colleges and universities. In addition, current textbooks and other teaching materials may need to be adapted or reinvented in order to adhere to the standards. There is also currently no equivalency exam or modified version of the exam for students with special needs, and all students in a school must take the same CCSS assessment to have their results reported for accountability. The CCSS may be more rigorous than a given state’s previous standards, but they may be less rigorous than another state’s. There are also, as yet, no comprehensive standards with regard to social studies and sciences, so it is still up to individual states to determine what those standards ought to be.
Even as nationwide adoption of the CCSS seems near, attitudes seem to be changing about them. A belief persists that the CCSS is a federal effort to force socialized education on states without discussion through the No Child Left Behind Act, even though this is denounced as a myth on the CCSS website. The Republican National Committee has passed an anti-Common Core resolution, claiming that the CCSS is a violation of states’ rights. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats have pointed to evidence that CCSS testing is no better than previous state testing at determining student achievement, despite assurances to the contrary. Some states have begun to change their minds regarding standards adoption, and others have criticized poor or incomplete transitions to the new standards. The education package just passed by the State of Minnesota seems to be a step away from, rather than towards, full CCSS adoption. Add to this the current anxiety about testing and its validity, and unified national assessment standards start to seem much further off.
Whatever direction the CCSS progresses in, it appears the conversation is far from over.