NAICU Washington Update

Common Core State Standards in English and Math Released

June 03, 2010

On June 2, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers released their final standards in English language arts and mathematics. These standards have been developed through the Common Core Standards Initiative, in which all states except Texas and Alaska participated - although not all states that participated will adopt the final plan.

In general, the standards seek to ensure that all high school graduates are ready for college level work. This means the standards could have more direct implications for colleges than current state-based assessment and curriculum initiatives.

Now that the final standards have been published, states will be asked to adopt the standards officially. Official adoption includes an assurance that the core standards will represent at least 85 percent of a state's standards in English language arts and mathematics.

To date, higher education involvement in this effort has been limited. However, many states have begun outreach efforts because the development and adoption of common standards is one of the selection criteria for Race to the Top funds.

Achieve, an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit education reform organization, has developed a guide, that provides insight on how states may ask colleges to become involved. The paper, titled "The Historic Opportunity to Get College Readiness Right: The Race to the Top Fund and Postsecondary Education," is posted on their Website.

On the plus side, Achieve points to the benefits of having more students prepared to do college-level work, and suggests constructive ways that colleges can help by providing "physical and intellectual resources."

Potentially more problematic are references in the guide targeting state-based merit aid to low-income students who meet the core standards (page 3); creating common course numbering (page 6); providing automatic "entry" - not just eligibility - into credit-bearing courses (page 6); and using results for admissions decisions (page 8). In addition, the guide emphasizes participation in statewide data systems.

The NAICU Board Committee on Accountability discussed the draft standards at its meeting in April. The document summarizing that discussion is currently being circulated to committee members for comment. However, the general sense of the committee was that the emphasis on critical thinking skills and necessary competencies for college was a positive improvement over most current state standards of learning.

Committee members also raised some cautions about the potential for the standards to be used inappropriately (e.g., in admissions decisions), and noted that particular attention would need to be given to any assessments accompanying the standards.

NAICU will continue to monitor the progress of this state-driven national initiative.

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