Setting the Record Straight: State Academic Standards vs. State Assessment Policies

A recent Newsday headline, “Anti-Common Core Forum in Massapequa Draws about 200 People,” suggests a large number of parents, teachers and administrators turned out to oppose New York’s Common Core Standards. In fact, as the article goes on to clarify, participants joined the forum to voice concerns about testing policies, which are separate from the state’s education standards.

Opponents and misinformed reporters have often conflated Common Core State Standards with assessments. Here’s the difference:

  • Standards set clear goals for what students should reasonably know and be able to achieve at each grade level in order to graduate high school prepared for college or a career.
  • Assessments measure student development to ensure they are meeting those targets and to inform parents and teachers so they can support their children.

The content of assessments should be aligned to a state’s standards for each grade level – to make sure students are meeting those goals. Therefore if a state uses the Common Core State Standards, the state might have their assessment “Common Core-aligned.” However, Common Core State Standards do not dictate which tests states use. Those decisions remain with state and local authorities.

While concerns about over-testing have come to the forefront in recent years, states have demonstrated a commitment to high-quality assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards. For parents and teachers, that should come as welcome news. They are finally getting accurate information about how well their students are developing the skills and knowledge-base they need to become college- and career-ready.

Late last year, Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, explained that while the results from new assessments has been “sobering,” it’s important to remember why so many states started down this path in the first place.

“Most states set absurdly low academic standards before the Common Core, and their tests were even worse,” he wrote in USA Today. But, “parents should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or the associated tests. They may not be perfect, but they are finally giving parents, educators and taxpayers an honest assessment of how our students are doing.”