By Cameron Pipkin
If your state has adopted the Common Core Standards, it’s likely that you and your colleagues are just now taking the first steps down a long road that you’ll be walking for years to come. What lies at the end of that road is still uncertain. But did you know that you’re not the first group to tackle the Common Core Standards? A handful of pioneering states and districts began implementing the Standards years ago, and by now have collected Common Core assessment data that provides a glimpse into the kinds of results you might expect to see from your state’s Common Core assessment efforts.
The District of Columbia adopted the Common Core back in 2010, but began classroom implementation a little bit earlier than most—in the 2012-2013 school year. With an aggressive focus on curricular material and professional development, Washington DC achieved a feat that even most educators in the district hadn’t considered possible: DC Public Schools student scores increased across the board in every tested subject area from 2012 to 2013 from the previous school year, in every single grade, every ward, and all subgroups (ethnic, socioeconomic, etc.). Math was up 3.6 percent from 2012, reading was up 3.9 percent; science was up 1.8 percent; and composition, 4.6 percent.
Despite encouraging gains, DC continues to face challenges, with one of the most dramatic achievement gaps in the country. In 2012-2013, 40 percent of black students were proficient in math compared with 91 percent of white students. The gap was larger in reading, where 39 percent of black students scored proficient compared to 92.1 percent of their white counterparts.
New York State adopted the Common Core Standards in 2010, and the state as a whole is currently in the middle of the first year of classroom implementation (2013-2014). Schools in New York City, however, got ahead of the state’s implementation timeline, rolling out the Standards in 2012-2013 and conducting Common Core-aligned assessments by the end of the year.
The results were disappointing.
Scores dropped—that much was expected—but the extent of the drop shocked many in the state. At the final tally, math proficiency went from 60 percent to 30 percent, and English proficiency fell from 46 percent to 26 percent.
The assessment results caused uproars all over the state, with parents and teachers calling for the state education commissioner’s resignation and storming community meetings to the point that they were canceled. Common Core assessments are still rolling out in New York, but their future is much less certain than it was a year ago.
Under the leadership of Commissioner Terry Holliday, one of the shining stars in US education, Kentucky became the first state to take the Common Core into the classroom, rolling out full implementation in the 2011-2012 school year. Though there was a consistent, detailed plan for implementation firmly in place, Kentucky’s expedited timeline came with the expectation of lower test scores in year one, which was exactly what happened. In Kentucky, all eyes were on year two.
The going theory for new standardized tests is that after significant drops in the first year, scores will see a gradual recovery year after year if things go well. When second-year scores for Common Core-aligned assessments were released in Kentucky just a few weeks ago, a recovery seemed to be underway. In reading, scores rose in middle school from 46.8 percent to 51.1 percent and in high school from 52.2 percent to 55.8 percent. In elementary school, scores in reading remained basically stable, moving from 48 percent to 47.8 percent.
In math, the story was slightly different. Test scores went up in elementary grades from 40.4 percent to 43.9 percent and remained more or less stable for middle school students, rising from 40.6 percent to 40.7. However, high school scores saw a considerable drop from 40 percent to 36 percent, going down across ethnic and socioeconomic lines.
And my take away from all of this? I expect that the experience of DC is going to prove the exception to the rule. In the first year of mass Common Core assessments (in t-minus six months and counting), I predict we’ll see moderately sharp drops in proficiency rates on average, across the country, with slow recoveries in year two. Don’t expect things to even out for a few years. However, I really do believe that in the end, Common Core will raise the level of achievement in the US. It will just take time.