Correcting the Record: Are States Really Giving Up on High, Comparable Education Standards?


Arizona, like other states, is moving away from “federally mandated Common Core,” an article in the Havasu News-Herald writes. The state, the piece claims, is developing “something that is more rigorous and developmentally appropriate at every grade level” as it develops plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.

That reporting is misinformed on several levels. To start, states voluntarily adopted the Common Core. Recognizing the old patchwork of academic expectations, which varied widely from state to state and even district to district, created often big discrepancies in the education students received, states set out to create a new, more rigorous baseline.

Common Core was always meant as a floor, not a ceiling, to accelerate adoption of college- and career-ready expectations, and it succeeded in that purpose. As a Harvard study notes, “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 are continuing to build up from that baseline. In fact, only one state—Oklahoma—has reverted back to inferior learning goals. Its example should serve as a cautionary tale for policymakers elsewhere hoping to appease critics by lowering expectations for schools and students.

Like others across the country, Arizona appears to be strengthening its standards, not scrapping them. State Superintendent Diane Douglas acknowledges, the News-Herald reports, “I don’t expect there will be radical changes”

The Every Student Succeeds Act ensures states and school districts have control over their standards and accountability systems. As leaders design plans to implement the law, it is imperative they continue to build on that success, rather than to turn back, as the article suggests.

Arizona, too, should resist the “siren song” of those who would revert back to weaker learning goals and assessments (an independent analysis by the Fordham Institute gave Arizona’s former education standards “B” grades in both math and English, not exactly “some of the best in the nation,” as the News-Herald claims). It is still early in the implementation process, but already states are seeing improvements in student performance, largely as a result of their commitment to high, comparable standards.

This year, most states administered assessments aligned to higher standards for the second time. Student achievement overwhelmingly improved over the previous year. Although it’s too early to “plant a flag,” Jim Cowen explains, the scores indicate that higher standards are beginning to deliver on their promise to improve educational outcomes.

Importantly, improvements were often largest among early-grade learners, who have spent most or all of their educational careers learning to higher standards.

Last year, Louisiana State Superintendent John White noted, “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they are comparable, so there can be an honest baseline… That is a fantastic success for each state and for America and its children.” Now, it appears, states are beginning to see improvement from that starting point.

As Arizona develops plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act, leaders have an opportunity to continue to set high expectations for students. That’s what parents, teachers and students deserve, and it aligns with the original intention of the Common Core.