Common Core State Standards and Improved Student Mastery

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The Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, represent a potential reboot for standards-based reform—an opportunity to address some of the design flaws that have diminished the policy’s effectiveness in the past. This new set of standards can replace the various state benchmarks for learning that have dominated K-12 education policy in the United States for at least two decades. These new content standards, which clearly detail the knowledge and skills that all students should possess in mathematics and English language arts, or ELA, are intended to be supported with aligned assessments that reinforce the content messages of the standards and provide evidence of student mastery. When tied with consequential accountability, the CCSS and assessments can lead to improved instruction and, subsequently, improved student learning. This theory of change is intuitively appealing, and there is evidence of success at achieving intended effects on teachers’ instruction and student performance, including both test scores and longer-range outcomes.

The CCSS were created in response to the shortcomings of No Child Left Behind-era standards and assessments. Among those failings were the poor quality of content standards and assessments and the variability in content expectations and proficiency targets across states, as well as concerns related to the economic competitiveness of the nation’s future workforce. The CCSS in mathematics and ELA were developed in 2009 by governors and chief state school officers in association with educators and researchers. The standards that they drafted were rapidly adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia. In addition, two state consortia—the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC—were created to develop new assessments aligned to the new standards.

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