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Reading & Literacy

Common Core Found to Rank With Respected Standards

By Nora Fleming — October 26, 2011 5 min read
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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 Wednesday.

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.

While the study found alignment in the topics covered and the range of content between the common-core standards and the five others, 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.

It 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.”

Just One Measure

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 and EPIC’s founder and chief executive officer, was also involved in developing the IB standards, Texas’ standards, and the Knowledge and Skills for University Success standards. Mr. Conley said his center selected the IB, Texas, and KSUS standards because its researchers felt confident those were of high quality and focused on college preparation.

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 focus on 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.

“We shouldn’t think of one set of standards being better than another; different standards have different purposes,” Mr. Conley said. “The goal is not to have perfect alignment between them, but to see if they are reasonably consistent.”

“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.”

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 that 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 adopt 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.

“Texas has been a leader in the establishment of college- and career-readiness standards, and overall received positive remarks for strong and in-depth coverage [in the report],” said DeEtta Culbertson, a Texas Education Agency spokeswoman. “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.”

Though officials from Massachusetts had not yet seen the findings, a spokesman for the state education department said Massachusetts’ involvement in helping write the common core and its adoption of those standards 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.

According to a related study EPIC released in August, most entry-level college professors found the common-core high school standards were relevant to college-level courses. Still, meeting those benchmarks is not the only achievement a student needs to be ready for to succeed in college, according to Mr. Conley.

“There’s a big danger if you look at these standards as everything you need to know to be ready because it’s 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.”

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