New Academic Standards Clearer, but CA May Not be Onboard

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The common academic standards many states will adopt this fall are clearer and more rigorous than those currently used by three-quarters of all states, according to an analysis by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The Washington, D.C.-based think tank analyzed the standards in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and found that only three had superior standards in English, while none were better than the Common Core State Standards in math.

The Common Core standards have already been adopted by 25 states, with a majority expected to sign up in the month ahead. The state-led initiative aims to establish a uniform set of expectations on what students should know by the time they graduate high school. Current standards vary widely from state to state.

The study found the Common Core standards were stronger than 37 states in English and 39 states in math. A handful of states had academic standards in both subjects that were similar to the uniform ones.

“The most compelling argument for national standards is higher standards,” said Michael Petrilli, vice president for national programs and policy at the institute. “And that’s exactly what the Common Core standards would mean for the vast majority of states and the children in their schools.”

The policy organization had content experts examine and award a letter grade to each state. The Common Core standards received a B-plus in English and an A-minus in math. The three As in English went to California, Indiana and the District of Columbia. All three are scheduled to consider adopting the standards in the coming weeks.

The Indiana Department of Education will recommend using Common Core standards.

“This allows everybody to get on the same playing field so we can all compete and understand how we’re doing, and use everybody’s resources and ideas to make sure we’re creating the best possible systems in each states,” said Todd Huston, chief of staff at the Indiana Department of Education.

Fordham graded states based on two sets of criteria: Content and rigor, and clarity and specificity. The study found that most state standards were “woefully inadequate,” with many English standards not describing the specific content and genres to be studied. Writing standards were also criticized for being too vague.

In math, the study noted that few standards set arithmetic as a top priority.

There’s word Wednesday from national education researchers that California is at the bottom of the class, or pretty close to it, in nearly every measure of public school performance.

But, there is one bright spot, the new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute says the academic content that’s taught to California’s public school students is second to none.

The study comes as state education leaders debate whether to adopt standards putting California in sync with most other states. That would give California a chance at new federal school funding.

Critics fear adopting national standards, and doing away with the state’s superior academic framework, would dumb down our classrooms.

Montana, meanwhile, received an F for its math and English standards, but students there have performed higher on the math and reading portions of NAEP than the national average.

“Standards are extremely important to state education systems and national education systems,” Finn said. “But they don’t get traction unless they’re implemented properly.”

Texas, one of the states that has decided not to adopt the Common Core standards, has comparable English standards and “clearly inferior” math standards, the Fordham Institute study found.

Gail Lowe, chairman of the Texas Board of Education, said the state is scheduled to review its math standards in the coming year.

“Constitutionally the realm of education is left to the states to govern, not the federal government,” Lowe said. “And in Texas, we still believe Texans should write the standards.”

About 40 states are expected to adopt the standards by September, said Chris Minnich, director of standards for the Council of Chief State School Officers, which is leading the Common Core initiative with the National Governors Association. The federal government was not involved in the Common Core standards project, though it has encouraged adopting the expectations and included it as part of scoring in the “Race to the Top” grant competition.

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