While the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have drawn opposition in some states, school district leaders continue to believe in them, saying that the CCSS in math and English language arts (ELA) are more rigorous than their state’s previous standards in these subjects and will lead to improved math and ELA skills among students in their districts, according to a new survey by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) at the George Washington University. At the same time, district leaders report facing resistance to the standards both from within and outside of their education systems and identify several challenges in implementing the standards.
“It is clear that the political intensity that surrounds the Common Core has made an impact at the school district level,” said CEP Executive Director Maria Ferguson. “The fact that a growing number of district leaders—those on the front lines of implementing the standards—continue to view them as more rigorous than previous standards and more likely to improve student skills despite all the turmoil is an impressive show of support for the standards and what they mean for students.”
According to the report, Common Core State Standards in 2014: Districts’ Perceptions, Progress, and Challenges, about 90 percent of school district officials in states that have adopted the CCSS in math and ELA say that the new standards are more rigorous than their state’s previous standards in these subjects. That percentage represents a “notable increase” since 2011, the report points out, when less than 60 percent of district leaders held that opinion. It also finds a sizeable increase in the percentage of district leaders—from roughly 55 percent in 2011 to more than 75 percent in 2014—who believe that the CCSS will lead to improved math and ELA skills among students in their districts. The report attributes the increases to district leaders’ “three additional years of first-hand experience with implementing the CCSS in classrooms and with gaining a deeper understanding of the content of the CCSS.”
When asked about implementation of the new standards, district leaders acknowledge that they do not expect to achieve major implementation milestones until this school year or later. As shown in the table below, more than 60 percent of districts said they would not adequately prepare teachers to teach the CCSS in math and ELA until School Year (SY) 2014–15 or later. Nearly 80 percent say that will not adopt CCSS-aligned textbooks and other instructional materials until SY 2014–15 or later.
“Although states expect to administer CCSS-aligned assessments this school year, it is noteworthy that about half of the districts in CCSS-adopting states have not yet completed key activities related to curriculum and teacher preparation that are likely to affect student performance on assessments,” the report notes. “In other words, many districts do not expect to have the key elements of a fully-aligned system in place before districts and schools are held accountable for student performance.”
Given this finding, it is no surprise that 89 percent of district leaders report facing major or minor challenges in having enough time to implement the CCSS before consequences take effect based on student performance on CCSS-aligned tests. District leaders also report challenges around professional development, curricula, new CCSS-aligned assessments, and resources.
When asked about opposition to the CCSS, 74 percent of school district leaders identify resistance to the CCSS from within the K–12 system as a challenge while 73 percent say the same about resistance from outside of the K–12 system. Resistance has grown since 2011 when only 10 percent of district leaders saw resistance to CCSS from within the K–12 system as a “major” challenge, compared to 25 percent in 2014. Resistance to the CCSS from outside the system has also become more of a major challenge for district leaders, growing from only 5 percent in 2011 to 34 percent in 2014.
Additionally, 62 percent of district leaders report concern about state officials reconsidering the adoption of the CCSS or putting implementation of the CCSS on hold.
To address opposition to the CCSS, 84 percent of district leaders say they are conducting outreach to explain how the CCSS are more rigorous than previous state standards while 76 percent of districts report conducting outreach to explain why student performance may be lower on CCSS-aligned assessments than on previous state math and ELA tests.
Common Core State Standards in 2014: Districts’ Perceptions, Progress, and Challenges is available at http://www.cep-dc.org/displayDocument.cfm?DocumentID=440.