The History of Common Core Standards

The push for common standards shared by multiple states isn’t new. Conversations about “common” or “national” standards have been a significant part of the public discussion on education for several decades. However, efforts to agree on a common set of standards for state departments of education and, as a result, local school districts have often been sidetracked by concerns that the federal government would become overly involved.

The conversation is resumed

Efforts were made by the Clinton and Bush administrations to enact some kind of national standard. However, after meeting resistance, these initiatives did not succeed. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 reignited the discussion about common standards.

Signed into law by President George W. Bush in January 2002, No Child Left Behind increased state accountability, among other criteria, for reaching certain levels of educational attainment and reporting those outcomes. Although the emphasis was on increasing the level of state accountability for student progress, certain components of No Child Left Behind sparked renewed interest in common standards:

  • Focusing on student progress: Every school in every state was required to meet certain achievement targets on assessments that measure student learning in math and English. Called “adequate yearly progress” (AYP), these benchmarks became the measures by which schools, districts, and states were graded on their ability to educate students. Consequently, an emphasis on measuring student progress was accompanied by an intensified focus on exactly what was being measured.

  • Accentuating the disconnect between states: No Child Left Behind presented a significant challenge that involved the measurement of student progress with AYP, which compared progress in each state. The difficulty was that each state used its own standards for learning and for determining proficiency in subjects. The result? Some states had remarkably high proficiency rates in math and English, while others were considerably lower.

  • Learning from national assessments: According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), an annual test that measures performance across core academic subject areas in each state, certain states consistently outperform other states in math, reading, writing, science, history, the arts, and other assessed areas. The assessments used by individual states didn’t reflect the same distribution of scores.

After looking at only a few years of test scores from states using different standards and tests, educators and legislators concluded that, without common standards, comparing student achievement between states would be next to impossible. A comparison of NAEP scores to the results of individual state assessments reinforces this fact.

These considerations have persuaded more and more state leaders and policymakers to pursue common standards once again. Their goal: To introduce a degree of consistency and clarity regarding educational expectations across state lines.

How the Common Core Standards were developed

With renewed purpose, state leaders and policymakers confronted the issue of common standards again in 2006. After policymakers took a closer look at the differences in content and rigor among the states’ standards, investigated the influence of high standards in other countries, and gathered feedback on implementing the standards, the move toward common standards was in full swing.

The two organizations that officially led the development of the Common Core Standards were the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

In early 2009, a meeting of state education leaders in Chicago resulted in overwhelming support for the idea of common standards. By the summer of 2009, all but two states, Texas and Alaska, had signed an agreement to participate in the development of the Common Core Standards.

The process of writing the Common Core Standards began in 2009 and involved consulting existing state standards, researching college and career readiness, and exploring international education systems. The public was able to comment on a first draft of the standards released in September 2009, followed by a second draft for comment in March 2010.

After nearly 10,000 individuals provided input on the standards, a final draft was released in June 2010. After years of trying to agree on common standards for states, the Common Core Standards were ready for adoption.

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