All High School Graduates Should Have These Skills

Pursuing common standards, key groups recently crafted a skills set they say students should have.

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In recent months, an alliance of the nation's governors and state education officials has led an initiative to develop common academic standards to which all public K-12 students would be held. In an early step toward that goal, experts convened by the group this week released a set of math and English skills they say students should master before high school graduation, the Washington Post reports.

The hefty standards envisioned in the proposal, which is posted at www.corestandards.org, leave little to be desired in terms of quantity. In math, they range from core practices such as constructing viable arguments and making sense of complex problems to modeling quantitative relationships and mastering probability and statistics. And the standards for English language arts focus on reading and writing skills as well as speaking and listening proficiencies, including presenting information and responding constructively to advance a discussion.

Currently, academic standards can vary widely from state to state, and the proposal aims to lift expectations and to establish for the first time an effective national consensus on what public school students should learn to help the United States keep pace with global competitors.

Feedback from national organizations representing teachers, such as the National Education Association, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the National Council of Teachers of English, has been part of the standards development process, but the actual writing and determination of what goes into them has been taken up by officials from Achieve Inc., a standards reform group; the College Board, which oversees the SAT college admissions exam; and the ACT testing program.

Supporters of common national standards say that uneven expectations for students are folly when the United States trails several countries in Europe and Asia on international exams. Opponents, however, argue that a one-size-fits-all approach to education is not the right way to go.

Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, told the Post that "this is more bottom-up than top-down" and that the federal government should not take a key role in the effort. But the Obama administration has been very vocal about its belief that student standards need to be raised and is planning a $350 million grant competition to help fund common assessments for states that adopt common standards.

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