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Published in Print: November 2, 2011, as Common Core Stacks Up Well vs. Other Respected Standards

Common Core Stacks Up Well vs. Other Respected Standards

Study finds content alignment, depth

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The common-core standards in English/language arts and mathematics are generally aligned to the leading state standards, international standards, and university standards at the high-school-exit level, but are more rigorous in some content areas, says a report released last week.

Researchers at the Educational Policy Improvement Center, or EPIC, a Eugene, Ore.-based research organization, compared the content and curriculum standards for: California and Massachusetts; the Texas College and Career Readiness Standards, a collection of competencies and skills for secondary students that complements the state’s high school standards; the International Baccalaureate standards; and the Knowledge and Skills for University Success, a set of expectations endorsed by 28 research universities and used by the College Board as a reference in its own standards.

The authors wanted to see how closely the content covered, the range of material included, and the depth of that material correlated with the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

The study found alignment in the topics covered and the range of content among the common-core standards and the five others. However, the common core demanded a bit more cognitive complexity in some topics, particularly English/language arts, the report says. The comparison standards lacked the depth of challenge in reading for informational texts, writing, and reading and writing for literacy, and, on the math side, in geometry. However, some of the rigor of the common core will be defined by examples of student work and can’t yet be measured for depth of knowledge required, according to the study.

The study comes on the coattails of an increasing push at the federal level to ensure students are leaving high school ready for college. The Obama administration’s recent waiver plan for the No Child Left Behind Act frees states from some of the law’s accountability requirements if they adopt standards for college and career readiness. A bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, whose current version is the NCLB law, also makes that a priority.

But some experts ask whether having comparable international, national, and state-to-state standards means that the common core makes it more likely a student will be prepared for college.

“The study continues a line of evidence that the core standards that states have adopted have a solid research base and will help teachers and students,” said Chris Minnich, the senior membership director at the Council of Chief State School Officers who led the standards and assessment work at the CCSSO, one of the groups that shepherded the development of the common-core standards. “The next step for states is to ensure that during the implementation of the standards, teachers have the support and tools that they need to teach the new standards.”

College-Prep Focus

The comparison standards selected were either highly regarded state standards or focused specifically on college and career preparation and rigor. David Conley, the lead researcher on the project, was also involved in developing the IB, Texas, and the Knowledge and Skills for University Success standards. Mr. Conley said his center selected those three because its researchers felt confident they were of high quality and focused on college preparation.

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Still, he said, the report is not meant to measure the quality of one group of standards over another, but rather to test the conclusion that the common-core standards place a strong emphasis on preparing students for postsecondary education by comparing the standards with others that also focuson college readiness. States also shouldn’t focus on trying to make sure everything in their standards and all the details line up exactly with the common core as they do their own in-depth comparisons, he said. Instead, they should look for broader correlations.

“The goal is not to have perfect alignment between them, but to see if they are reasonably consistent,” Mr. Conley said.

“If everything doesn’t line up [between their standards and the common core],” he said, “it doesn’t mean they have to overhaul their curriculum.”

Miles to Go

While Michael W. Kirst, a professor emeritus of education and business administration at Stanford University, had not yet seen the report, he said the comparison and alignment of the “long-standing, well-respected” IB standards with the common core was particularly noteworthy, given that the common-core crafters have claimed they are internationally benchmarked, and the results of the study could give some support to the claim.

Comparison and alignment with Texas, a state that didn’t adopt the common core, is also important, Mr. Kirst said, because the Texas effort to craft standards was led by the Texas Coordinating Board of Higher Education as a way of ensuring the state’s K-12 standards were focused on college readiness.

“In reviewing the study, what we see are findings that Texas College and Career Readiness Standards are found to be at or above the standards contained within the common-core state standards,” said DeEtta Culbertson, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman.

Though officials from Massachusetts had not yet seen the findings, a spokesman for the state education department said the state’s involvement in helping write the common core and its adoption of the common core was tied to the close correlation between the two and the ability to augment the common core to be more Massachusetts-specific when implementing. As a result, the correlation would not be surprising, he said.

“There’s a big danger if you look at these standards as everything you need to know to be ready because they’re not. If you think they’re the perfect measure, they’re not,” Mr. Conley said. “The common-core standards are a step in the right direction, but we still need more information on what makes a student college- and career-ready and still have a way to go toward creating stronger standards and assessments than [evaluating a student] by a cut score on a test.”

Vol. 31, Issue 10, Page 6

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