Common Core Standards: A Positive Impact

Students at our school are familiar with STAR testing; most of us have taken it since kindergarten. Some see it as a nuisance while others see it as three easy minimum days, but what most students don’t know is that star tests are an important part of the national education program President George W. Bush instituted—a program that is about to change in the upcoming years with the new Common Core State Standards.

Ten years ago, Bush signed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. NCLB was the national government’s effort at a standards-based education reform system. The act stipulated that states create a means of student assessment. However, no national standard was established—in other words, states were allowed to choose their own standards for assessment. If a state could successfully show Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), it would be able to receive funding.

NCLB also sought to correct poor schooling systems by devising a system of punishments for schools that were not able to meet AYP. If a school missed AYP for two consecutive years in a row, it would be publicly labeled as “in need of improvement” and be required to devise a two-year plan for improvement. Also, students would be given the opportunity to transfer to a better school if they wanted to. For each consecutive year of failure, the schools would be subjected to harsher penalties. If a school failed to meet the standards for six years in a row, it would be subjected to restructure.

The inherent problem of NCLB was its heavy reliance on test scores. As a result, some critics feared that the implementation of NCLB forced teachers to “teach to the test” in an effort to have their students answer questions correctly rather than actually learn.
Because schools would be punished for not meeting these standards, it makes sense that school districts and teachers might decide to just teach what was on state standards tests so their schools would not be punished.

Moreover, the scores that were used to measure the achievement of students of a given year were based on a direct comparison to students of the previous year. This method of comparison does not factor in the differences between students from year to year, and is not an accurate indication of whether a school is doing a good or bad job.

NCLB was at least a major step forward on the federal government’s part to improve education. At the minimum, the fact that standardized tests were created allowed schools and the country to see where their students were.

In 2009, the country took one more step forward in changing its education system. Since NCLB was due to expire in 2007, President Barack Obama proposed a new plan: Race to the Top.

Rather than solely rely on test scores, Race to the Top also assesses the success of schools based on a few other criteria: great teachers and leaders, state success factors, general selection criteria, data systems to support instruction and improvements in lowest-achieving schools. Each criteria merited a certain number of points, and schools competed to attain the most points, and hence, federal funding.

More interestingly, Race to the Top also created a nationwide standard for education. Along with Race to the Top came the Common Core State Standards. The establishment of these common standards allowed for a nationwide realignment of education. The initiative states that “the standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.”

While the Common Core State Standards are the same throughout the nation (states adopt at least 85 percent of the standards), each state develops different plans for implementing them. The state of California has recently been focusing on revamping its state assessment methods to transition from knowing things to being able to do things—rather than solely focusing on facts, the goal is to teach students to be able to think critically and analytically and to essentially “do.”

The standards are voluntary, but 48 states have already adopted them. They are internationally benchmarked and set a higher national achievement mark as opposed to having 50 different individual state standards.

The Common Core State Standards will also be more effective than NCLB in terms of utilizing the data collected from standardized testing in a more sophisticated way. States will be required to implement a “longitudinal data system” that can follow individual students and determine the growth in their academic achievement as they move from K-12. This supports the Common Core Standards’ goal of continual growth and development.

While the Common Core State Standards won’t be fully implemented until a few years later, they are the right step to raising the national achievement bar. Although teachers, schools and states will have to put in more effort to revise the current standards and methods of testing, working to lower the achievement gap between states will help raise the standards of education in the United States.