Evidence vs. Perception: Common Core Is Built on the Skills Students Need to Be Ready for Success After High School


“The Common Core education initiative may need to have its focus readjusted when it comes to college preparedness,” an International Business Times article asserts in response to the ACT’s latest National Curriculum Survey.

A press release accompanying the survey carefully alleges “certain discrepancies between portions of the Common Core State Standards and skills some educators believe are most important for college readiness.” The Common Core State Standards are comprised of about 1,300 standards spread across 13 grades and two subjects. Those were considered by 9,200 individuals in the ACT study. Understandably, respondents were able to identify “certain discrepancies” between aspects of the standards and what they think students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college.

But it’s important to note the ACT study is a survey of opinions. The data represent perceptions—what respondents think is most important to prepare students for college and careers. That can be very different from evidence of what actually best prepares students, which is grounded in study and research.

A great deal of research indicates Common Core State Standards are built on the best evidence of what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college and careers. For example, researchers at Michigan State University found the Common Core is 90 percent aligned to education standards used by top-performing countries. Moreover, surveys of educators, that cover a more representative sample, have come to the exact opposite conclusion than ACT.

ACT data show Common Core State Standards and the skills students need align closely in many areas. For example, only 18 percent of instructors believe incoming students can distinguish fact from opinion, and only 23 percent believe students can “evaluate evidence to support an author’s claims.” The Common Core puts a greater emphasis on critical thinking skills, and college professors gave high marks to specific reading skills embedded in the standards, like drawing conclusions and making inferences.

Likewise, in math, large majorities of educators at both the K-12 and college levels identified being able to justify and explain an answer as among the most important skills students can develop. That is a focus of instruction under the Common Core.

Evidence from states also indicates Common Core State Standards are helping to improve student outcomes. Tennessee was an early adopter of the Common Core and put a lot of support behind implementation efforts. There the percentage of college-bound students requiring remediation has fallen consecutively over the past four years, from 77 percent in 2011 to 63 percent in 2015.

In 2014 Tennessee made the largest improvement in college-readiness rates in more than a decade. “The hard work of teachers to implement higher academic standards is having an impact,” the state’s education commissioner said of the gains.

By contrast, states that have taken the “repeal-and-replace” path have produced uncertainty and disruption for schools, and, in the case of Oklahoma, ended up with inferior academic expectations. An independent analysis that compared Oklahoma’s new education standards to those of 25 other states concludes: “These standards will disadvantage Oklahoma students compared to their peers in other states; students in Oklahoma will be less prepared to successfully enter college and careers.”

Most states have opted to review, refine and build on the Common Core framework. States can use the ACT survey findings to help guide that work by identifying content areas where opinions are supported by evidence, and make adjustments as needed. But to cite the ACT survey as a reason to throw out the Common Core would put states in a worse position to ensure students are prepared for college and careers.