Most States Not Ready for Common Core Standards

Report says states have to make a lot of progress before Common Core standards are implemented in 2014.

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President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visit a Maryland classroom. Many states are struggling to meet new nationwide education standards, a new report finds.

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Most states still have a long way to go in order to bring their students up to the "college- and career-ready" level of the Common Core State Standards, a new report found.

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An analysis by The Education Trust used national performance data to track students' improvement and achievement in reading and math in all 50 states over the last decade. The report found that, overall, states were evenly split between those that scored "significantly" above the national average, and those that made no significant improvement, or scored far below the national average.

But scoring above the average doesn't mean a state is ready to adopt the new standards, says Natasha Ushomirsky, the author of report. It simply means that those states have made more progress than the country has made as a whole.

"Everyone is going to have a lot of work to do," Ushomirsky says.

The Common Core State Standards are academic benchmarks for reading and math that lay out what students should know and do at each grade level, as well as after high school. Currently, 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, while five other states created their own version. For those that have adopted the standards, they will be fully implemented by the 2014-15 school year, when new assessments aligned with the Common Core are published.

Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, said in a released statement that many state leaders have said students will "all be in the same place" by the time the new assessments are administered. But most students are not, and many more will require a significant amount of effort to get them on that level, she said.

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"We need to make sure that the lessons from states that have improved the most for all groups of children inform implementation work more broadly and ensure that struggling states have the extra help they will need to build the forward momentum that is already present elsewhere," Haycock said in the statement.

Some states – like Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey – showed track records of strong improvement for all groups. However, individual state reports reveal that many students in high-performing states may not be proficient in reading and math.

In Massachusetts, for example, overall student performance and improvement were significantly higher than the national average for both reading and math, and its track record was also strong for low-income students. But its individual report card shows that only 50 percent of all students and about a quarter of low-income students were proficient in those areas.

While those proficiency rates are still higher than many others, even these high-performing states would struggle with the difficulty of Common Core standards, Ushomirsky says. And for states that have lagged behind and consistently struggled, the stretch would be that much greater.

West Virginia, for example, was the only state that performed worse and improved more slowly than the national average in all subjects and grades. Oregon also had a fairly weak track record, with below-average performance and improvement for students overall and low-income students.

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In states like Ohio and Wisconsin, the result was mixed. Both states scored higher than the national average overall, but fell short with one or more of their underserved groups, like low-income and minority students.

And although Ushomirsky says the new standards have the potential to "dramatically improve" both instruction and student achievement, critics have said that they are too long and detailed, or that they will put already-struggling students at a disadvantage.

Ushomirsky says states with weaker track records will need to "work hard and work smart" to take advantage of the opportunities the standards present. Lower performing states will have to support schools that are not meeting the expectations the standards lay out, both by providing funds for school resources, as well as teacher training and feedback.