Common Core: 10 Years Later, Do We Actually Know if it Helps Students Learn Better?
The Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS) is a set of standards that outlines what K-12 students in should know in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Bolstered by initiatives such as the Federal Race to the Top, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pearson Publishing Company and others, development of the initiative began in 2009 and states started adopting and implementing these standards in 2010. Nearly ten years after its initial development and amidst several other studies and perception surveys, a new study has found negative academic effects of the CCSS on both mathematics and reading achievement.
The Common Core standards were initially adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, with Texas, Alaska, Nebraska, and Virginia declining to adopt the new standards. Currently, the CCSS has been adopted by 42 states and the District of Columbia as Arizona, Oklahoma, Indiana, and South Carolina originally adopted the CCSS but later repealed the standards. Minnesota currently has only adopted the English Language Arts Common Core standards.
The development of the Common Core standards has had both its advocates and opponents. Proponents for CCSS claim that a clear set of expectations would help students increase their college and career preparedness, and aligning standards across states would engender greater collaboration opportunities and sharing of resources. Detractors of the CCSS assert that the initiative overextends the federal government’s reach on what has generally been a state issue and cite concerns about impeding or restricting teachers’ ability to be creative with their lessons. Sadly, the debate over Common Core has turned political in many respects as opposed to focused on the efficacy and ability of the initiative to positively effect student learning.
Over the course of its ten year adoption, several surveys and studies have measured the perception of stakeholders regarding the Common Core initiative. According to one study (Peterson, Herderson, West & Barrows, 2016), public opinion of CCSS has steadily declined, with 90% support in 2012 to 50% in 2016. This survey also found similar declining support from teachers from 87% in 2013 to 44% in 2015. However, a study by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (2014) found that more than half of surveyed teachers noted a positive change in students’ ability to think critically and use reasoning skills after the adoption of the CCSS.
Difficulties in implementing the CCSS in states may help partially explain the mixed stakeholder perceptions. A Center on Education Policy (2013) survey revealed that 22 out of 40 states expressed inadequate funding as a major challenge in implementing the CCSS; other issues identified included inadequate staffing levels, lack of professional development, identification of appropriate instructional materials, and having sufficient time to implement the standards before performance-based high stakes student testing.
Methodology and Findings
The study compared reading and mathematics test data from 4th and 8th graders on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Although the NAEP does not explicitly test CCSS standards, there are nevertheless a number of alignments in topics, and researchers decided to use this data for their analysis based upon these similarities.
Most notably, the study found “significant negative effects” of the CCSS on 4th graders’ reading achievement and 8th graders’ math achievement. These negative effects were particularly present in student subgroups with disabilities, English second language learners, and Hispanics versus the overall sample.
The researchers took efforts to note that their results should be interpreted with caution, citing the alignment between the CCSS and NAEP test and CCSS implementation timeframes as potential limitations to the study. This research is nonetheless significant as it measures student achievement over an extended period of time across multiple states. As politicians continue to debate and battle over Common Core, we hope to see more research-based studies that will help guide policymakers and educators.
This article is available and can be accessed in Spanish here.
Peterson, P. E., Herderson, M. B., West, M. R., & Barrows, S. (2016). Ten-year trends in public opinion from the Ed Next Poll. Education Next, 17(1), 8–28.
Rentner, D.S. (2013). Year 3 of implementing the common core state standards: An overview of states’ progress and challenges. Washington, DC: Center on Education Policy. Retrieved May 7, 2019 from http://www.cep-dc.org/displayDocument.cfm?DocumentID=421.
Scholastic & the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. (2014). Teachers’ views on the Common Core State Standards one year later. Retrieved May 7, 2019 from http://www.scholastic.com/primarysources/PrimarySources-2014update.pdf.