In Many States, Graduation Requirements Fail to Align With Common Core

By Caralee J. Adams — November 20, 2013 4 min read
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A new survey finds that while all states and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of college- and career-standards, the level of progress with implementation and accountability in making those goals a reality for students varies widely. And many states, according to the analysis, lack graduation requirements that align with the common-core or other standards they have adopted.

Achieve, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that helped to develop the Common Core State Standards, on Wednesday released its 8th annual report,”Closing the Expectations Gap.” The report looks at state adoption of standards, graduation requirements, assessments, and accountability systems aligned with what colleges and employers expect of high school graduates.

Officials from Achieve applauded states for raising the bar for students by embracing the Common Core State Standards—or their own college- and career-ready standards, but say educators are getting mixed signals without policies that enforce the goals. (In all, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the common-core math standards, with 46 having adopted the English/language arts standards.)

For instance, just 19 states and D.C. have graduation requirements that align with the new standards, the report finds. Seven states have a mandatory diploma that requires students to complete a certain course of study, without any “opt-out” provision. Five states have a college- and career-readiness course of study as the default curriculum for 9th graders, but offer a separate path for students who opt out of the requirement. Another seven states default 9th grades into a course of study and allow students to opt out of individual courses, but award the same diplomas to all graduates. The remaining states have students “opt into” college- and career-ready level courses of study.

On a Nov. 20 conference call, representatives from Achieve said most states are not considering proposals to raise those requirements for a prescribed course of study.

State adoption of standards will have little impact without measuring student performance with high-quality assessments, the report says. With the rollout of new testing through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, most states are on track to have assessments aligned with the new standards in the coming years, the report notes. [It’s worth noting, however, that several states have recently dropped out of the consortia, such as Georgia and Indiana.]

Also, the Achieve report said that now only 19 states have or will administer college- and career-ready high school assessments that give students a readiness score they can use for placement when entering a postsecondary institution.

The new report comes several months after another, by the advocacy group Change the Equation, also raised concerns about an apparent mismatch between the common core and state graduation requirements. The earlier report, which was highlighted over at Curriculum Matters, focused on the math standards, and concluded that only 11 states met the authors’ definition for graduation requirements that fully align with the common-core’s math expectations.

‘Champions of the Status Quo?’

In the area of accountability, no state meets Achieve’s ultimate criteria of using the following four indicators in its college- and career-ready accountability system: Earning a high school diploma, receiving a certain score on a high school assessment, earning college credit while in high school, and not having to take remediation on college. However, 35 states now incorporate at least one of four accountability indicators, compared with 32 states last year, it finds.

“We are seeing a bit of progress, but it’s slow progress,” said Cory Curl, a senior fellow for assessment and accountability for Achieve, on the conference call.

The report said that states cannot make the transformation that is required to improve students’ readiness for college and the workforce without additional, significant changes in policy and practice. It recommends that states develop new incentive programs outside of their accountability formulas to reward schools that improve the rate of students meeting college- and career-readiness benchmarks.

In a press release, Achieve President Michael Cohen said the the next few years will likely be challenging, but advocates of the college- and career-ready agenda have to stay the course.

“Those who are against the [common core] or [college- and career-ready] standards, better assessments, aligned graduation requirements, and accountability systems that value college and career readiness are, in fact, champions of the status quo. A status quo that graduates far too few and fails to prepare many who do receive a diploma for the real world.,” he said.

The new report was based on a survey given to all states this summer. State-by-state results can be found on the Achieve website.

A version of this news article first appeared in the College Bound blog.