Cheryl Oldham is the Vice President of the Center for Education and Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation
Another summer has come and gone and students across the country are getting acclimated to new teachers, new classrooms, new books, and new friends. The beginning of this school year provides us with an opportunity to look back over the past 12 months at the successes and the challenges as high education standards were implemented across the country. Despite what you may have heard, the 2014–2015 school year was an overwhelming success for high standards and, more importantly, for students being taught necessary skills to thrive beyond high school.
Much of the media coverage about the Common Core State Standards would make you believe that states are running away from the standards left and right. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, no states repealed the standards during their 2015 legislative sessions. That’s right. None. In fact, teachers are using the Common Core State Standards (or their equivalent in some states) in classrooms from coast to coast, and students are beginning to reap the benefits. (Read The 74 Flashcards: 20 Basic Things to Know About the Common Core)
Students are exceeding expectations in places like West Virginia, Missouri, Oregon, andWashington. And as we recognize the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, educators in New Orleans, working in what was once considered one of the worst school districts in the country, are doing what many thought impossible—raising student achievement. These are measureable successes that we can point to as evidence that we are on the right track. But there are also challenges ahead that will require steadfast leadership and commitment to seeing the transition through. This fall, more states will be releasing test scores on new assessments aligned to high standards. Chances are these scores will look lower than in previous years. The scores, however, aren’t lower. They are more accurate.
For years, states have lowered their math and English language arts standards, in part, to skirt accountability if they fail to educate students to grade level. Imagine lowering a high jump from seven feet to three feet. Almost everyone is able to jump over it. Well, that’s what was happening across the country.
After years of this practice, though, governors and state education leaders said that enough is enough—we can’t continue to be dishonest with students and their families. We can’t keep sending kids to college or the workforce woefully unprepared. So states raised their standards to align with the expectations of college and career. They raised their standards to prepare students for a more competitive job market. They raised their standards for the 21st century.
But what good is it to raise the bar if you don’t have an accurate way to measure student achievement? As business leaders know, we must constantly monitor and measure progress toward our goals. This helps us stay on track and make essential adjustments that will give us better results. The new assessments do the same thing. They are designed to accurately measure progress toward college- and career-readiness, giving teachers, parents, and students the information they need to get on track and stay on track.
These new assessments move away from a system of fill-in-the-bubble tests. Students now show their work, explain their answers, and truly demonstrate mastery of the content—in a way that has not been done before.