Standards are Not a Silver Bullet, But Worth Seeing Through

Student proficiency scores have seen improvement in recent years in Kentucky but data show African-American students perform worse than their white peers on average, a Hechinger Report article notes. “Kentucky finds itself at a crossroads…It’s clear that raising standards was not enough to help all learners.”

Common Core State Standards are not a silver bullet – but were designed to ensure that low-income students and students of color were no longer being short-changed with lower expectations that mask the reality of gaps in performance across racial and socio-economic factors. As the article notes, many factors affect classroom performance, and now that we have a clearer picture of how students are actually performing against a college- and career-ready standard, educators are now better able to address those needs. For example, teachers may provide personalized instruction to students who are struggling in certain subjects or with specific content.

Those who seek to blame the Common Core for exacerbating academic achievement gaps fail to mention that their solution is to expect less from certain students or accept that our schools will not prepare them for college. Proponents of the Common Core prefer to use performance against the standards as a key indicator for targeted assistance to the students who are not yet on grade level and who need additional support. High, consistent learning goals ensure all students are held to expectations designed to fully prepare them for college and careers, an important first step to begin improving student outcomes.

As with most education policies, it will take time—probably years—for these changes to take root and begin to improve student outcomes, an analysis by the Collaborative for Student Success notes. But that doesn’t mean we should walk away from the standards so quickly. The strength of the Common Core is that the standards build strong foundations of fundamental skills beginning at early grades. Therefore, as more students in early grades begin to learn through the standards, achievement will gradually increase.

Policymakers should resist the temptation to declare that the Common Core will not help to close achievement gaps. Instead, they should provide support to teachers and parents to help ensure all students are able to achieve to these new, higher academic expectations.