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So Just What Are the Common Core Standards?

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Did you know that when a student is "proficient" in math or reading in State A, that student is not necessarily also "proficient" in the same subject in State B? Lack of consistency in expectations is a serious problem we face as a nation, and it is one of the many challenges that the Common Core College and Career Readiness Standards are designed to solve.

The Problem, Exemplified

Just take a look at the Nation's Report Card (NAEP). This is the only assessment of academic subjects that is administered across the nation on an on-going basis in every state. Look at last year, for example, in which a number of states showed lower percentages of proficiency on the national test than they did on their own state tests. For instance, Connecticut students taking Math on the Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT) showed 86 percent proficiency, far higher than New Hampshire students taking the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), 66 percent of whom were proficient. However, when you gave Connecticut and New Hampshire students the same test (NAEP), the truth came out: New Hampshire students had higher rates of proficiency than Connecticut students.

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Makes no sense right? It's because we have different standards and expectations between states.

The Result

This disparity in standards for learning is one of the primary factors muddying the once-clear image of the American dream. Americans pride themselves on being a great melting pot in which we can all succeed if we work hard; and if you work even harder, you can be assured that your children will be able to get even farther ahead. Now, however, that dream is fading fast in the wake of the opportunity gap.

Today, the majority of American jobs (59 percent) require some form of higher education; yet recent SAT results indicate that only 43 percent of college-bound high schoolers are showing signs of readiness for college or the workforce. With each state establishing its own idea of what should be expected of its students, educators struggle to prepare their students with consistency. And students in our increasingly mobile society face growing barriers as they find themselves with disjointed learning experiences and education gaps between jurisdictions. Today, American young people are graduating our public schools thinking a diploma prepares them for the future, but finding out all-too late that it may not be worth the paper on which it was printed.

The Solution

It's difficult to establish a common set of high expectations for public education across the states -- unless, that is, we first establish a common and consistent understanding from school to school and state to state about what a high-quality education should look like. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have done just that.

The CCSS were developed by teachers, school administrators, and other education experts, to provide educators and public school parents with a clear and consistent set of expectations for what our children should be learning in each grade of school, in order for them to graduate prepared for college and/or the workforce in a modern-day global economy. Although they do not tell teachers how to teach, they establish the level of knowledge and skills that students should have at each grade level, so that teachers can build lesson plans and classroom environments accordingly.

In 2010, standards were officially released in Math and Reading, and development in Science standards is underway. Adopting the CCSS is a choice each state can make or decline to make, and Connecticut formally adopted the CCSS in 2010.

The Benefits

Now, Connecticut has joined more than 40 other states that have developed a consensus about shared goals for academic standards. These states will be able to share best practices across the nation so that American educators can continuously learn how to most effectively serve the needs of their students. Where once the examples set by other states only gave us the ability to compare apples to oranges, new assessments based on the Common Core will allow us to compare apples to apples.

Moreover, the goals set by CCSS heighten the expectations we set for our students so that they will be prepared for their futures. Studies show that students who successfully master the CCSS will be better prepared for the NAEP exam's rigorous expectations.

Potential Bumps in the Road

However, those heightened expectations are also likely to cause a few upcoming bumps in the road. The CCSS will be assessed in the 2014-2015 school year by an online testing platform that was developed by two multi-state assessment consortia. Since we are setting higher expectations than in previous years, we have to be prepared for the likely possibility that our students' test results against these higher standards may be lower than in previous years. This is why it is imperative that we support the educators in our schools to implement these standards now, to increase the possibility of students achieving at higher rates.

So be prepared, but don't be alarmed! If the tests are harder, it's because we are raising our standards and changing instruction to make sure students have a stronger learning experience and are better prepared for the future. At the end of the day, that's a good thing for our students!