Kentucky’s Results Provide Strong Endorsement for Common Core State Standards
October 17, 2014 11:55 am
In 2010, Kentucky faced a situation common to many states: its students were passing courses and scoring high on state tests, but evidence from other sources, including ACT scores and college-remediation rates, showed that too many students were not prepared for college or careers. These harsh truths provided the impetus for a major overhaul of the state’s education system. That same year, Kentucky became the first state to adopt the new Common Core State Standards, which are designed explicitly to chart a path toward college and career readiness, and ever since, school districts across the state have been doing the hard work of redesigning instruction, assessment, and teacher preparation to ensure that all students reach those benchmarks. In Kentucky, these standards are called the Kentucky Core Academic Standards (KCAS).
Earlier this month, the Kentucky Department of Education released statewide college and career readiness rates for the 2013-2014 school year. The results speak volumes; over the past four years, the percentage of Kentucky high school graduates ready for college and careers has increased from 34 percent to 62 percent in 2014.
These improvements are a ringing testament to Kentucky’s unwavering dedication to implementing the Common Core and helping students succeed. When the KCAS were first adopted, assessments predictably showed an initial drop in student test scores—as is often the case when standards are raised. As expected the longer teachers and students persisted, scores began to rise thereafter. Still, widespread misinformation about the standards—coupled with a counter-productive display of political posturing—stirred local debate and protest. Fortunately, in 2013, the Kentucky Board of Education passed a resolution unequivocally re-affirming support for KCAS. This has not completely silenced the critics, but it did keep the great work of teachers and students on track.
As we are seeing in Kentucky, a concerted effort over time to align instruction, curriculum, and assessment around the Common Core State Standards will improve student achievement and college and career readiness. As with any change, there will be a period of adjustment as teachers and students get used to the new standards and tests. And new and improved assessments, even if they result in an initial drop in test scores, set a new baseline that provides states more accurate indicators of student achievement.
The Common Core sets students on a trajectory toward college and career readiness, from kindergarten through grade 12. These new, rigorous assessments aligned to the Common Core provide an academic check-up for students, and help teachers and parents know whether students are on the right path to being college- and career-ready by the time they graduate. They provide a more accurate understanding of student knowledge than previous tests, because students are required to show and apply what they know, instead of just picking the right answer from a multiple choice question.
Making sure that all students can meet these new benchmarks takes time and effort. Teachers need to be prepared to teach in new ways, and need support to change instruction. But Kentucky’s Board of Education, school districts, teachers, students, and parents have shown what patience and perseverance—and hard work and a lot of support—can accomplish in their classrooms. But despite their hard work and the improvements that resulted, two bills have been introduced this year to repeal the Common Core in Kentucky.
We cannot afford to let political maneuvering take priority over the progress and success of students in Kentucky, or in school districts and states across the country where teachers, parents, elected officials, and others are working together to ensure that our young people master the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today’s world. We’re overdue for a national moment of patience, while we allow schools to continue the hard work of Common Core implementation, because no major change happens overnight. We owe it to our educators and to our students to take the time to do this right, and look to Kentucky as they continue to demonstrate how it’s done—and even more significantly, show the real benefits for students.
Bob Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia.