K-12

Common standards released — with mixed reactions from states

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By Sarah Butrymowicz

The release of common academic standards on June 2nd means states will be revamping what students are expected to learn, although how quickly and extensively they do so will likely vary.

Kentucky, which became the first state to adopt the common standards in February when they were still in draft form, continues to move ahead.

“Now the actual work that we need to do starts with those,” said Lisa Gross, director of the Division of Communication for the State Department of Education. “We expect that teachers are going to start implementing these and start rolling them into the curriculum this [coming] year.”

Other states are embarking on a long approval process. And at least one state, Alaska, plans on redoing its standards on its own, while examining the core standards for suggestions, according to Eric Fry, a public information officer for Alaska’s Department of Education and Early Development.

The differing reaction of states to the final set of standards released on June 2nd after months of feedback from teachers, educators and state officials comes at a time when the U.S. is seeking to define the knowledge and skills students should have in English and mathematics, grade by grade.

It also comes as some states have resisted adopting new standards by the deadline for the second round of President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top competition.

Massachusetts, for example, is wary of the new standards. State Education Secretary Paul Reville vowed on Wednesday not to vote for any standards that fall short of what the state already has in place.

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell said on Tuesday that he doesn’t support the push for common standards and couldn’t move forward in round two of the Race to the Top competition. Charles B. Pyle, communications director for the Virginia Department of Education, said the state believes its standards are superior to any that might be adopted, which is one reason it didn’t file a second-round Race to the Top application.

“Virginia has been a pioneer since the 1990s in standards and assessments,” said Pyle. “Uprooting this foundation for another set of standards that are comparable would be extremely disruptive to the students and teachers of Virginia.”

Texas also thinks its own standards are superior, according to Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott. “If there is something we’re missing, I’ll take it over to the Board of Education,” Scott said. But he doesn’t expect to find any holes in his state’s current standards.

Texas just finished an extensive process of developing college- and career-readiness standards, leading state officials to elect not to participate in the development of the common standards. “It made little to no sense to throw all that work out for something we hadn’t seen,” Scott said.

Few states have committed to adopting the new standards, as they await public comment and embark on lengthy public approval processes, but 48 states were officially part of the effort to shape them. Texas and Alaska didn’t formally participate. And neither Texas nor Alaska applied in either round of the Race to the Top Competition.

But Alaska will look closely at the recently released common standards before making a final decision, and it will incorporate some to strengthen its own, but “on our own timeline and in our own way,” Fry said.

Alaska feels its own standards are more rigorous in some areas, though some of the new ones trump what Alaska expects students to know by each grade, Fry said.

In a meeting of several state teachers to review a draft of the standards in February, panels found that about 50 percent of the common standards in reading are either the same or less rigorous than those already in place in Alaska. About 25 percent of the common standards were deemed more rigorous, and an additional 25 percent did not align sufficiently to compare.

In Idaho, though, the new standards are generally higher and clearer than what is currently in place, said Melissa McGrath, a spokeswoman for the Idaho Department of Education. However, that doesn’t mean adopting them will happen instantly: In August, the new standards will be brought before the state board of education before being sent out for public comment, returning to the board and ultimately ending up in the state legislature.

The approval process is also getting underway in Florida. Eric Smith, the state’s commissioner of education, said that although the standards still have to be internally vetted and go through formal channels, he’s fairly confident they will be adopted in the end.

Changing the state’s standards shouldn’t prove too difficult, Smith said. “We feel we have very aggressive standards in Florida. These will help move Florida forward, but they’re not going to be a giant leap.”

Susan Sawyers contributed reporting to this article.

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