University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Common Core: Possible Benefits, Causes for Concern, Red Herrings and Arkansas Recommendations

In The View from the OEP on June 11, 2014 at 1:32 pm

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The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are student learning expectations in math and reading for grades K-12 that set the bar for the knowledge and skills that must be taught at each grade level. Developed by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State Schools Offices (CCSSO), the Common Core State Standards are currently in place in 43 states and the District of Columbia.

Our newest Arkansas Education Report summarizes the historical background of national standards, explains key details of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and then digs into the national and Arkansas debate surrounding CCSS. The OEP identifies possible benefits of CCSS, possible causes for concern, and also the “red herrings,” or arguments that we do not believe are substantiated. Read the full report here.

Possible Benefits of CCSS for Arkansas

fordham1. Increased Rigor for Arkansas Students

The Fordham Institute’s study, The State of State Standards-and the Common Core-in 2010, reviewed all fifty states’ ELA and Math standards and found that the CCSS are more rigorous than 37 of the states’ standards. Some states’ standards, such as Massachusetts, were found to be superior to the CCSS, and others were determined “too close to call.” Fordham suggests that states that have standards comparable to CCSS and have invested heavily in teacher training and test development may have reason to hold off adopting CCSS. The study encourages states with less rigorous standards to adopt CCSS.

According to Fordham’s study, Arkansas standards scored a D for ELA standards and a C for Math standards. Thus, based on this report, Arkansas has improved its level of academic rigor by choosing to adopt the Common Core State Standards.

2. New Testing Regime

Another possible benefit is that along with the Common Core come new assessments. Though we won’t know for sure until PARCC is implemented during the 2014-15 school year, PARCC tests may be an improvement on Arkansas Benchmark and End-of-Course exams, which suffer from ceiling effects.

Another possible benefit of Common Core-aligned assessments is that they will enable us to compare schools’ test results across states, whereas before we could only compare within the state. Currently, we are only able to use National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data to make comparisons among states and certain urban school districts.

 3. Greater Access to Instructional Resources

According to University of Arkansas graduate Michael McShane (2013), one of the greatest benefits of Common Core is the increased sharing of instructional resources. With the CCSS, educators are able to benefit from a vastly expanded marketplace of teaching resources.

4. National Curricular Coherence

We live in an increasingly mobile society and advocates argue that Common Core Standards will make it easier for students who move from school to school or state to state to make a seamless transition. This is one reason the U.S. military supports the standards, as the children of service members often move frequently.

Possible Causes for Concern

1. Lack of Rigor

Educational experts such as Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram have identified concerns about the lack of rigor of the standards.

2. Centralized Control of Standards is Harmful

According to Jay Greene and others, a huge concern with the CCSS is the underlying belief that all students nationwide should be learning the same thing at the same age, although students are very diverse.

3. Higher Standards Do Not Affect Achievement

As Hanushek and Loveless point out, research shows that there is no relationship between states’ standards and student performance. For example, Massachusetts is touted as having strong standards and producing top notch achievement results. However, California also has high learning standards, but student achievement in that state is low.

4. Implementation Challenges

This is probably the most common criticism of educators, who have three main concerns:

  1. Rushed accountability: Many are concerned that Common Core-aligned assessments will not only measure students’ progress but will be used to evaluate teachers, rate schools and rank states.
  2. Lack of externally-vetted, high-quality CCSS materials: Many resources are marketed as being “Common Core-aligned,” even if they are not.
  3. Lack of technological infrastructure: States, including Arkansas, must have a technological infrastructure in place by 2014-15 to participate in Common Core-aligned exams. This can be costly and difficult for some states.

The Red Herrings of Common Core

RedHerringIn our research, we were unable to substantiate the following concerns and do not believe they are valid arguments.

1. Federal Overreach

The Common Core standards were created in a similar way to Arkansas’ state standards. Both were created by relatively small groups; one met in D.C. and the other in Little Rock. The National Governors Association Center (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) coordinated the initiative. Arguably, the federal government incentivized the adoption of the standards through stipulations related to Race To The Top grant funds.

2. No Proven Track Record of Success

While we believe that it is important to look to research-tested practices to improve schools, research is not always available on all topics. Also, national standards have proven to be effective in other top-performing countries.

3. “Fuzzy” Math and Lack of Literature

First, Common Core math standards do not abandon traditional algorithms and in fact, require that students demonstrate fluency with the standard algorithm for each of the four basic operations with whole numbers and decimals. Second, Common Core’s ELA standards do not discard literature. Under the Common Core, in grades 3-5, the Common Core literary and informational texts are in a 50-50 balance. In grades 6-12, there is more of a shift to informational texts.

4. Breaches in Student Data Privacy

Each state chooses how to assess students under Common Core and how data from these assessments will be used.

5. Lots of Harmful Testing

In Arkansas, students will be participating in PARCC testing. There is no evidence that there will be more time spent testing with PARCC than the previous Arkansas standardized tests.

Arkansas

arkansas ccssAfter reviewing all of this information, what is best for Arkansas? Should Arkansas continue to use (or reverse the adoption of) the Common Core State Standards?

We at the OEP feel that Arkansas education policymakers should continue on the current track to implement the Common Core standards in 2014-15 and for at least few years after that. There are a few reasons that we have arrived at this view:

1)      Many of the complaints lodged against the Common Core revolve around issues that are actually not connected to these new curricular standards.

2)     Some of the more legitimate criticisms leveled at the CCSS are based on the fact that these curricular standards have been developed and shaped by a single entity and may not be a good fit for all participating states. The consensus is that the Common Core standards are generally stronger than the Arkansas Curricular Frameworks that preceded the CCSS.

3)      The assessments that are currently employed in Arkansas have less usefulness today than they did ten years ago. A new and improved assessment system will be beneficial for students in Arkansas.

Only time will tell if Common Core State Standards will survive the onslaught of criticisms that they have received and what shape the national standards movement will take in the years to come.  As for today, in the state of Arkansas, based on the reaction of teachers and the public, it seems that the transition from the curricular frameworks to the CCSS has been a positive one. This is not to overlook the implementation challenges that await as we begin to attach a testing regime (likely PARCC) to the Common Core.  However, our educational leaders of the past have overcome the challenges of implementing new standards. It is our hope that this experience will be no exception.

 

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  1. I’m a retired teacher from AR. I talk to my friends who still teach. These individuals are strong teachers, constantly looking for the things that motivate students to learn. They are teaching in a lower social economical area. It’s hard to motivate kids brought up in “cracked houses” and homes where they’re encouraged to perform poorly so their parents can get a “crazy check” for them. These things come from the mouths of these children. Then the teachers are demeaned for their performance as a teacher because these children did not “score” high enough. Government intervention is much hated by most educators, no matter what they feel they must tell you to survive as educators. I thank God daily that I’m now retired. Yes, I felt the brunt of this “movement for years before retiring, so I do know what it’s like.

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