High Standards Not A Silver Bullet for the Achievement Gap
One of the strengths of the Common Core is that the standards build strong foundations of the skills students need to succeed at higher levels of learning, by beginning to hold students to higher expectations in early grades. While standards themselves aren’t a silver bullet to close gaps in achievement and opportunity, as more students at early levels begin to learn to the higher standards, performance for all groups of students will increase – a trend we’ve already started to see.
And yet, despite the strengths of the standards, opponents are still trying to undercut their importance. Such as Emmett Tyrrell, who, writing in The American Spectator, argued, “It’s clear that raising standards was not enough to help all learners.”
One example of these criticisms is Kentucky – a state that continues to see large gaps in achievement, but one that is working to close those gaps with the implementation of higher standards. Common Core opponent Richard Innes writes on the Bluegrass Institute’s blog, “Kentucky’s largest minority student group experienced a slight achievement gap decay during the past three years. If Common Core is supposed to improve performance for minorities, as of 2016 it has not shown up in Kentucky’s ACT results.”
Data show, however, that this is patently false. Over a four year period (2012 – 2015), Kentucky’s African American 5th graders have seen an 11% increase in scores. White students experienced only a slightly stronger increase at 12%. So while gaps in achievement have not closed yet between the state’s African American and white students, both groups have seen increases in student performance.
And we’ve seen this encouraging trend in early data from across the country – showing that our traditionally underserved students are also improving. For example, in Vermont, sixth and eighth-grade Hispanic students saw proficiency rates grow 15 and 13 percentage points (respectively) in English Language Arts (ELA); in Colorado, black fourth-graders grew more than four percentage points in ELA compared to the previous year’s fourth graders―more than any of their peers.
But it’s unfair for critics to suggest the Common Core is responsible for academic achievement gaps. It is also unfair to expect Common Core to be the silver bullet that will close the achievement gap. High, consistent learning goals ensure all students are held to expectations designed to fully prepare them for college and careers, which is an important first step to begin improving student outcomes.
Communities of color remain strongly supportive of high standards and high-quality assessments. National Urban League President Marc Morial wrote previously that high academic expectations, “will not address every concern about our education system, but equitable implementation will help pave the way to ensuring that all children have a fair shot at a high-quality education.”
Similarly, a Harvard University study concludes, “Overall, 36 states have strengthened their [proficiency] standards since 2013, while just 5 have loosened them, and 7 have left their standards essentially unchanged. In short, the Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States.”
Overwhelmingly, states that have made a commitment to rigorous standards and meaningful assessments are seeing gains in student performance. “Although it’s too early to plant a flag, initial results indicate… the original promise of the Common Core is working,” Jim Cowen explains.