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SOMETHING IN COMMON: Achieve Reports That Many States Are Voluntarily Setting College- and Work-Readiness Standards

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“A common core of college- and career-ready expectations in sixteen states is a positive development.”

More and more states are aligning their curriculum standards with those for college and work readiness, leading to “a remarkable degree of consistency” in English and math requirements, finds Out of Many, One: Toward Rigorous Common Core Standards from the Ground Up, a recent report from Achieve.

The report analyzes to what extent a state’s college- and work-readiness standards in math and English align with the American Diploma Project’s (ADP) core benchmarks. ADP, a project of Achieve, is a network of thirty-three states committed to ensuring that every high school graduate is prepared for college or work. Each of the sixteen states studied for Achieve’s report—among them Arizona, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Texas—is a member of ADP, and adopted college- and work-readiness standards voluntarily.

“States are leading the way in identifying and setting real-world standards for student success,” said Mike Cohen, president of Achieve. “A common core of college- and career-ready expectations in sixteen states is a positive development.”

To review the standards, several content experts from the university, public education, and consulting communities answered guiding questions to determine how strongly each matched with an ADP benchmark, on a scale of zero to three. Those that did not match at all or that matched weakly were ranked from zero to one, while those considered a good or excellent match earned rankings between two to three. The average English alignment ratings for the eight categories ranged from 1.96 in Rhode Island to 3.0 in Tennessee. Except for Rhode Island, all twelve states that had aligned their standards achieved at least a two average.

According to Achieve’s findings, states’ standards were strongest in the area of informational text, concerning the identification of main ideas in a text, and the interpretation and synthesis of information; they were weakest in communication, regarding the identification of a thesis in a speech, making oral presentations, and participating in self-directed work teams.

In math, the average alignment ratings across the five categories ranged from 1.82 in Kentucky to 3.0 in Oklahoma. Achieve found state math standards to be strongest in algebra, but weakest in mathematical reasoning, which focuses on the constructing of proofs and strategic problem solving.

The report declares that a state-led movement for common standards is, indeed, feasible. “In the past, there has been remarkably little state-to-state consistency in curriculum standards,” the report reads. “However, today, nearly a third of the states, which collectively educate nearly 40 percent of the U.S. public school population, have embraced college- and career-ready standards….Further, they accomplished this by increasing the rigor of their standards, not by finding the lowest common denominator” (emphasis the authors’). The report also asserts that establishing college- and career-ready standards is only the first of several important steps, and that standards must be dynamic, not static.

Out of Many, One cautions that “common standards” are not necessarily “identical standards.” Standards in the sixteen states are based largely on the ADP core, which “forms a foundation of college- and career-ready expectations, but does not necessarily constitute four full years of content.” Some states had content in their standards that was either out of ADP’s scope or was even more rigorous than ADP’s benchmarks; an example the report gives is the especially rigorous standards found in some states that are tailored to students interested in further education and/or careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. In addition, standards also vary across states in how they are organized and their level of specificity.

The full report can be downloaded at http://www.achieve.org/files/CommonCore.pdf

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