Common Core State Standards

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Common Core State Standards

What are Common Core State Standards (CCSS)?

The Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, were developed by the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, two trade/lobbying groups for state governors and state superintendents/commissioners of education located in Washington, DC.

Common Core State Standards only cover English Language Arts and mathematics. A separate effort to create science standards has just completed at Achieve, a national standards group, and is separate from Common Core.

According to the Common Core State Standards web site:

“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them.”

CCSS supporters praise the new standards

Supporters of Common Core State Standards point to this program’s promises, such as:

  • Uniform education standards across the states
  • Comparability in testing across states
  • Fewer topics taught to greater depth
  • Teaching students to think and reason
  • Better preparation for college

Supporters claim the new assessments are far more rigorous than the old assessments in most states (Kentucky included) and are on target to lead to achievement of the promises listed above.

What are some of the commitments between the states and the Common Core effort?

Memorandum of Agreement between Kentucky and the NGA and CCSSO

Some of the commitments to create the Common Core between the State of Kentucky and the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors’ Association are contained in a Memorandum of Agreement from 2009. This document “commits states to a state-led process that will…lead to development and adoption of a common core of state standards…in English language arts and mathematics for grades K-12.” It also lists a number of benefits to accrue from participation such as creating better standards that are:

  • Fewer, clearer and higher…
  • Aligned with college and work expectations…
  • Inclusive of rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills, so that students are prepared for the 21st century;
  • Internationally benchmarked…
  • Research and evidence-based.

Of note, there are also limitations.

  • The states only had three years to adopt the final standards after their release.
  • Also, “States that choose to align their standards to the common core standards agree to ensure that the common core represents at least 85 percent of the state’s standards in English language arts and mathematics.”

Finally, the document clearly outlines an acceptable “Federal Role” in the process. While the document says the CCSS effort was to be state-led and not a federal effort, federal involvement through financing of development of new assessments is discussed. Other federal finance activities mentioned include: providing research, providing incentives and providing teacher professional development. There is even a suggestion that the federal education laws should be realigned with lessons learned from various efforts.

Memorandum of Understanding between Kentucky and The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

Kentucky is a “Participating State” (a non-voting state) in the PARCC assessment coalition. Using federal funding, PARCC is creating Common Core State Standards aligned tests for all relevant grades in mathematics and English language arts.

Although Kentucky has not committed to adopting the PARCC assessments once they are available, Kentucky never the less has already agreed to some important limitations on the state’s control over education in several sections of a Memorandum of Understanding between Kentucky and The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

Some of these limitations and restrictions include:

  • Kentucky must participate in pilot and field testing of the assessment system and tools developed by the Consortium (Page 8).
  • Kentucky is not eligible to receive reimbursement for costs incurred to participate in certain Consortium activities (Page 8).
  • Kentucky will conduct periodic reviews of its laws, regulations and policies to identify any barriers to implementing the proposed assessment system and address any such barriers prior to full implementation of the summative assessment components of the PARCC testing system (Pages 14-15).
  • Kentucky will use the PARCC assessments in all the state’s postsecondary institutions as an indicator of student readiness for placement in non-remedial, credit-bearing college-level coursework (Page 15) [Note: This appears to replace the current use of the ACT college entrance test for this purpose].


Are CCSS better than Kentucky’s old CATS Assessments?

Based on the first results from testing in the spring of 2012 with Kentucky’s new Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) testing, it appears that the new tests are more challenging than the old Kentucky Core Content Tests that were administered under the now defunct CATS program.

For example, Bluegrass Institute staff education analyst Richard Innes has extensively examined the new tests against the old CATS tests and also against the most recent scores from the National Assessment of Education Progress and a series of tests from the ACT, Inc., given to all Kentucky students in the eighth grade (EXPLORE Test), the 10th grade (PLAN Test) and in the 11th grade (ACT College Entrance Test). You can access this information in the K-PREP Data Sourcebook.

In general, proficiency rates on the new K-PREP run somewhere around 20 percentage points lower than proficiency rates reported for reading and mathematics under CATS.

Thus, it seems fair to say CCSS are more challenging than the very undemanding CATS Assessments in reading and mathematics, which were fully disbanded after 2011.

However, the question remains: are the new CCSS good enough?

Again, the K-PREP Data Sourcebook shows that while the new K-PREP tests are scored more rigorously than the old CATS Assessments, the new CCSS-based reading K-PREP tests in Kentucky generally still are not scored at a comparable level of rigor compared to either the National Assessment of Educational Progress or the EXPLORE and ACT testing series from ACT, Inc. In general, proficiency rates reported by K-PREP are about 10 percentage points higher than the rates reported by the other test series.

The picture looks better in mathematics, where elementary and high school K-PREP test results look like they are of comparable difficulty to the available NAEP and ACT testing.

Middle school math, however, is also scored somewhat easier on K-PREP than on NAEP and the EXPLORE tests. Readers wishing to learn more are referred to the K-PREP Data Sourcebook

Pushback on CCSS

In the past year and a half, adverse reactions to CCSS have begun to surface and have recently grown fairly intense in a number of states. Here in Kentucky, one group pushing against CCSS is the Kentuckians Against Common Core. This group has already formed alliances with similar minded organizations in other states such as Ohioans Against Common Core and Stop Common Core in Wisconsin.

Other national groups that have organized against Common Core include:

Issues with CCSS

The standards are not rigorous enough

It is notable that the final committee to review the CCSS, known as the Common Core State Standards Validation Committee, was charged to review the standards, make final changes if needed, and then certify the result. However, due to disputes about the final document’s true quality, no less than five of the 29 members of the CCSS Validation Committee refused to sign the certification page in the group’s final report.

Two of the CCSS Validation Committee who refused to certify that Common Core met its goals were Professor Sandra Stotsky from the University of Arkansas and Professor Jim Milgram from Stanford University.

Both professors provided letters to the CCSS Initiative staffers explaining why they would not certify the standards. Those letters, in a remarkable breech of normal policy for the operation of similar committees, were not included in the final report. Thus, the two professors have provided their letters to the Bluegrass Institute and others.


Validation Committee operations were problematic

Professors Stotsky and Milgram also provided troubling additional insight into the operation of the Validation Committee.

When the CCSS process began in 2009, a news release from the national governors association said:

“…CCSSO and the NGA Center have selected an independent facilitator and an independent writer as well as resource advisors to support each content area work group throughout the standards development process. The Work Group's deliberations will be confidential throughout the process.”

Milgram indicated in a message to the Bluegrass Institute’s staff education analyst that:

"…the "facilitators" for the Validation committee meeting were virtually impossible to deal with."

"… the facilitators were emphatically trying to not let us act according to our charter, but simply sign or not sign a letter when the charter said we had final say over the quality of the final CCSS product and could revise or rewrite it if we deemed it necessary. Incidentally, the facilitators succeeded, and I blame myself for allowing it to happen without fighting back."

Milgram also advised the resource advisors were problematic.

Milgram and Stotsky’s comments raise concerns about how the other CCSS work groups operated, as well.

Lack of transparency

As noted above, the NGA news release in 2009 indicated all work group activities were confidential. Because both the NGA and the CCSSO are private organizations, neither is subject to federal or state transparency laws such as Kentucky’s Open Meeting and Open Records requirements.

As a consequence, the public really knows very little about the working groups’ activities. In particular, there is no way to know if comments solicited from the public and educators during several public comment periods received thorough and careful consideration.

We have CCSS, but how they were really produced is an unacceptable mystery.

For additional comments on this, see Five People Wrote 'State-Led' Common Core from the Heartland Institute.

Questions about who actually created the standards

There is an on-going and very lively discussion about who actually created the Common Core State Standards.

The Kentucky Commissioner of Education asserts that:

“The standards were developed with significant input from Kentucky teachers and college professors. There were several iterations of the standards that were publicized for teacher and public feedback. Kentucky teachers were very positive about the standards and felt that their collective voices had been heard.”

However, while there were public feedback periods and inputs as the commissioner discusses, the 2009 news release from the National Governors’ Association indicates the real work to actually create the standards was completed in two work groups:

  • The Mathematics Work Group
  • English-language Arts Work Group

These groups were assisted by two other work groups:

  • The Mathematics Feedback Group
  • The English-language Arts Feedback Group

The press release explains the interoperation of these groups as follows:

“The role of this Feedback Group is to provide information backed by research to inform the standards development process by offering expert input on draft documents. Final decisions regarding the common core standards document will be made by the Standards Development Work Group. The Feedback Group will play an advisory role, not a decision-making role in the process.”

A full listing of the individuals named to the four CCSS committees is found in a separate document from the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers that appears to be from 2010.

One other group did a final review of the Common Core State Standards. This is the Common Core State Standards Validation Committee. The formation and tasking of this committee was publicly announced by a National Governors Association news release on September 24, 2009. The final list of members on the CCSS Validation Committee can be found in that committee’s final report.

As mentioned above under the Lack of transparency section, all of the workgroup activities were conducted under confidential conditions. Thus, the real work of assembling the standards was done out of public view, and there is no way to know how comments from the public, teachers and state departments of education were actually considered and incorporated into the CCSS.

Of note, as far as can be determined, none of the members of the various CCSS work groups are from the Bluegrass State. It should be noted that some members’ information does not include clear state affiliations and the organizations listed for those individuals are not always easy to locate, either.

However, there is further controversy about who really created the standards. One recent discussion of this is found in “Five People Wrote 'State-Led' Common Core,” an article by Joy Pullmann, who is a researcher at the Heartland Institute. Pullmann indicates that the real work was not even performed by the working groups but instead was very tightly controlled by a small group of CCSS writers.

It should also be noted here that five of the 29 members of the CCSS Validation Committee refused to sign the certification that the standards met the charter. Pullmann’s article addresses some of that situation, as do these letters from Professors Stotsky and Milgram.

School choice concerns

Parents interested in school choice are expressing concern about the Common Core State Standards, which seem to be highly centralizing public education throughout the country.

Some are concerned that the CCSS could limit true curricular options for schools of choice. Schools that might be impacted cover the complete range from public charter schools to private schools and even home schools.

One issue is that all major educational materials firms are rushing to align their products to the CCSS. That could result in a reduction in the diversity of available education tools such as textbooks and digital learning programs. With one set of core standards driving all of these efforts, it seems quite possible that diversity in the products could suffer in the future.

Another issue is the announcement from both the ACT and the SAT that those college entrance tests will be aligned to CCSS. This means any school choice parent who wants their child to go to college may be forced to insure the child gets a CCSS-aligned education program even if the parent believes another approach might be more suitable.

Growing Issues with Assessing the Common Core

The release of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010 triggered comments from a number of individuals in the Progressive Education community that the only way to access the higher order thinking required by these new K to Grade 12 standards was to make some radical changes to classroom instruction.

In addition, as details about plans for the Common Core tests from the PARCC and SBAC assessment consortia came out, we began to hear that the CCSS would require radical assessments including lots of performance-based elements such as:

• Open-response (written-answer) questions, and

• Even more involved extended time assessment projects often referred to as “Performance Items.”

Amazingly, the Progressive Education community’s recommendations to meet these needs sound very much like Kentucky’s long-failed KIRIS assessment program. That sets the stage for real problems in any state that adopts such testing policies as pointed out in this report from the Bluegrass Institute’s staff education reporter Richard Innes.

Bluegrass Institute Position on Standards

Since its founding in 2003, the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions has established an extensive history of support for high education standards, curriculum, instruction and assessment and accountability programs for Kentucky.

In fact, the institute’s very first public testimony before the legislature involved education. That 2003 testimony, presented to the Kentucky Legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Subcommittee by staff education analyst Richard Innes, pointed to problems with the state’s reporting of dropout and graduation rates. Innes’ concerns that dropouts were being under-reported were later confirmed by an official audit. Institute research regarding inflated scoring from the CATS assessment played a role in the 2006 legislative adoption of statewide testing of all Kentucky public school 11th grade students with the ACT college entrance test along with other tests from the ACT for 10th and eighth grade students. Those new ACT tests and other institute research were also a factor in the Kentucky Legislature’s enactment of Senate Bill 1 in 2009. This important bill led to badly needed revisions to Kentucky’s education standards and assessment programs and ultimately to changes in classroom instruction, as well.

Regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in mathematics and English language arts and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for science that were adopted as a result of Senate Bill 1, the Bluegrass Institute has consistently pointed out that these standards are definitely more rigorous than the replaced CATS standards.

However, the less-than-transparent, out-of-state process that created the new standards is troubling. So too is the appearance of possible federal over-reach in support of the standards.

In addition, recent research, largely surfaced only within the past year, indicates the new standards have technical issues requiring further attention.

Some of those technical issues include increasing reports of very dubious coverage of upper-level high school material needed by Kentucky’s more advanced students who wish to enter science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers and other more demanding college pursuits. For example, in this day and age when we are surrounded by electrical and electronic circuits, the term “electrical circuit” and related matter is incredibly absent in the high school science standards.

The institute is also concerned about the growing numbers of comments from teachers and psychologists that some of the lower grade CCSS material is age inappropriate.

Thus, while the CCSS probably established an improved starting point for Kentucky’s educational system, it is becoming clear that our students will “need more than Core.” However, due to the fact that the standards are copyrighted by Washington, DC organizations beyond the control of Kentucky, it is unclear how we can modify the standards to better meet our students’ needs. Still, it would be desirable, if possible, for us to use the CCSS as a “model, but not a mandate.” Ultimately, it is Kentucky’s job, not Washington’s, to produce the educational programs our students need, and the Bluegrass Institute favors a state-led approach to meeting that responsibility.


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