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THE TIME IS NOW: New Alliance Brief Outlines Need for Common Standards

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"During a time when all students, no matter their background or career aspirations, need to be held to high standards that prepare them for college or a career, there is evidence that some states are moving in the opposite direction."

The state-led common standards movement, which will raise expectations for all students no matter where they live, represents a “sea change” in American education and one that is sorely needed, according to a new issue brief from the Alliance for Excellent Education. The brief, Common Standards: The Time is Now, outlines the need for common standards that are rigorous, clear, and focused, and it suggests ways that common standards will help lay the foundation for a stronger education system that will prepare all students for college and careers.

“During a time when all students, no matter their background or career aspirations, need to be held to high standards that prepare them for college or a career, there is evidence that some states are moving in the opposite direction,” said Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise. “By establishing one set of common, rigorous standards, the Common Core State Standards initiative will go a long way toward ensuring every student-from Montana to Manhattan-has what it takes to compete with their international peers.”

According to the brief, written by Bob Rothman, senior fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education, states vary widely in the expectations to which they hold their students-a situation that is especially harmful to low-income and minority students. It notes that state standards vary in many ways, including content, quality, proficiency levels, and college readiness. Yet these variations are harmful, the brief argues, because students who graduate from Walla Walla, Washington, will face the same global economy as graduates from Wheeling, West Virginia. And in a highly mobile society like the United States, a student should not face lower expectations when he or she moves to another state. For these and other reasons, the brief argues, students everywhere need to be equally prepared to compete effectively.

The brief points out that common standards can also help states become more efficient. States currently spend between $517 million and $750 million annually to develop, publish, administer, score, and report on tests. Common standards provide an opportunity for states to pool together to develop tests based on a common framework, allowing them to save money and develop more sophisticated instruments that do a better job of measuring the full range of knowledge and skills students are expected to demonstrate.

Acknowledging that the common standards movement, by itself, cannot raise the level of achievement of all students in the United States, the brief stresses that a set of common standards for college and career readiness-benchmarked to international expectations-can do a great deal to help students, parents, teachers, administrators, and policymakers begin down that path. With common standards, students will understand exactly the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in college and careers; parents can determine whether their children are taking the course work that will lead to success; teachers can plan units of study that will enable students to reach the expectations; and school and district administrators can plan professional development.

The brief adds that standards need to be a part of a broader system that includes the following components to be truly effective:

• assessments that measure performance against the standards;
• accountability systems that determine whether schools are making progress;
• curricula and materials aligned to the standards; and
• support for teachers to ensure that they are able to teach what the standards expect all students to learn.

The complete brief is available here

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