Although most states say they have begun working with higher education institutions to implement the Common Core State Standards, nearly the same amount say they are facing major or minor challenges in working with colleges and universities in the transition, according to a new report from George Washington University's Center on Education Policy.
The role of higher education in implementing the standards is twofold, according to the report: colleges and universities need to help ensure that teachers, new and old, are prepared to teach the more challenging standards and evaluate how well those standards and assessments prepare students for entry-level college courses.
A large majority of the 40 state education agencies that responded to the survey said they have established formal partnerships to implement the standards with postsecondary representatives, and 31 states said these institutions have reviewed or plan to review the standards to determine if their mastery indicates college readiness.
Still, 35 states said working with higher education institutions is a major (16) or minor (19) challenge. In another question, 27 also said working with higher education institutions to align teacher preparation programs with the standards also proved challenging. Only two states said neither of these has been a challenge.
But Jacqueline King, director of higher education at the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups helping states design Common Core-aligned assessments, says the challenges stem from different ways of thinking.
"Common Core really requires K-12 and higher ed to work together at a level that in many cases hasn't occurred in states. The cultures of K-12 and higher education are very different," King says. "I don't think it's so much a concern around the standards themselves, but it's the issue of trying to get a more seamless pathway between the two, and really getting some clarity together about what college readiness means."
Additionally, differences in how states govern their colleges and universities could explain challenges in aligning teacher preparation programs with the CCSS, King says. In some states, a board makes decisions for policy initiatives statewide, whereas in others, those decisions are made by individual campuses.
Aside from teacher preparation and training, higher education's role in implementing the new standards can affect students and how well they will fare in first-year college courses, according to King.
Just as schools and teachers are adjusting their curricula and instruction to ensure students are "college- and career-ready," colleges are evaluating how well those standards and assessments match up to the expectations of entry-level college courses.
"Colleges are looking at how well their first-year courses align and if there are gaps, or if they are assuming things would be covered in high school that might not be covered," King said during a previous interview. "The goal is to make sure there's a smooth pathway between high school and college."
Establishing that connection can also help reduce the number of college freshmen forced to enroll in remedial classes – "refresher" courses usually required when students score low on placement exams. According to the CEP's survey, 21 states said they are considering using Common Core assessment scores in making course placement decisions and exempting students from remedial courses.
But as it stands, "it's not until usually the week before classes that students take placement exams and all of a sudden find out they're not ready," King said. "That can be so demoralizing for students."
Those courses also tend to have poor completion rates, King said, as those students drop out or retake the classes several times.