With the Election Over, What’s Next For States’ Academic Standards?


Following last week’s election many educators and experts are uncertain what impact Donald Trump’s victory will have on education policy, National Public Radio, along with several other outlets, reports.

During the campaign cycle Mr. Trump called high, comparable standards a “disaster” and pledged to “repeal” the Common Core. “Education has to be at a local level,” he said. “We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education.”

However, because rigorous and comparable education standards began as and remain a state-led effort, it’s unlikely President-Elect Trump will be able to make good on his promise to “repeal” Common Core. “It’s not possible for Trump, as president, to repeal or otherwise get rid of it, because there’s nothing to repeal,” the Daily Caller reported previously – a reality Mr. Trump’s transition team alluded to last week.

Mr. Trump’s pledge to replace states’ comparable education standards is “not actually possible,” The Atlantic adds, because “the federal government doesn’t dictate those.”

Mike Petrilli cautions, however, the populist victory could embolden lawmakers at the state level to replace their standards. “The Trump victory will surely give boost to anti-Common Core Republicans at the state level…We Common Core supports could be in for some more rough sledding.”

State leaders should remain resolute in their commitment to high standards and high-quality assessments. After years of development, planning and implementation, most states have established a rigorous, comparable new baseline for student achievement. They have matched higher expectations with high-quality assessments, giving parents and teachers more accurate information – all of which is a tremendous win for families and educators.

States are now beginning to reap the rewards of their commitment. This year, as most states administered assessments aligned to higher standards for the second year in a row, a majority made significant improvements to student proficiency in reading and math.

Some of the biggest gains were made by third-graders, who have spent most or all of their education learning to meet higher standards. Nationwide, math scores among third-graders increased nearly four points this year over last, on average.

Schools are also providing more accurate information to parents and teachers. The Honesty Gap analysis this year shows 26 states significantly narrowed discrepancies between state-reported proficiency rates and those identified by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is widely considered the “gold standard” of student readiness.

“These findings send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality tests,” explains Hanna Skandera, Education Secretary in New Mexico.

High, comparable standards align with parents’ desires for their children. Polling shows parents strongly support rigorous standards that fully prepare their kids for success in college and careers. “No matter what label policymakers attach to them, parents and educators support rigorous, consistent education standards that fully prepare students for the challenges of college and to compete in a global economy,” Executive Director of the Collaborative Jim Cowen notes.

The outcome in states that have “gone it alone,” either with standards or assessments, should further reinforce state and local leaders’ charge to keep expectations high. In each case, states that have sought to replace high, comparable standards have come out with either nearly identical or inferior learning goals – and created disruption and uncertainty in doing so.

In fact, Oklahoma is the only state to replace high, comparable standards with demonstrably different academic expectations. Against educators’ warnings that the move would create “chaos” for schools, lawmakers ultimately decided to replace the state’s education standards, subjecting students to four sets of learning goals in six years.

An independent evaluation concluded that Oklahoma’s new standards fall short on “nearly all” criteria of high-quality standards. “Worst of all, 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,” the analysis notes.

Likewise, states that have “gone it alone” by developing independent assessments have incurred serious costs and technical problems, and may very well end up with weaker tests. A Chalkbeat article reports: “The process of leaving consortia that was meant to pacify local protests against Common Core-aligned tests has actually led to chaos and confusion in the classroom, not to mention extra costs to those same states to develop replacement exams.”

Jim Cowen adds: “Beyond the costs, time constraints and technical challenges that accompany the development and implementation of new assessments, states that have struck out on their own have also jeopardized their ability to compare their progress to other states—and may very well come out with an inferior assessment in the process.”

Over the past six-plus years most states have implemented a higher and comparable baseline of student expectations. They have coupled those with next-generation tests that provide accurate information about student readiness. And they are now starting to see student performance improve as a result. To turn back on that work now would put students at a disadvantage and do a disservice to parents and teachers.

As state and local leaders develop plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act and enter a new era of federal policies, it is important they build on that momentum by keeping the bar high for all students.