In trying to explain the ins and outs of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Grades K through 12, it’s just as important to explain what the standards are not as it is to explain what they actually are. Executive Director Jay Diskey of the American Association of Publishers (AAP) PreK–12 Learning Group did just that in a web presentation to educational publishers on September 9.

In a nutshell:

•The CCSS, finalized in June 2010, is a state-led initiative developed by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA) Center.
•The standards were designed to identify the knowledge and skill set that every K–12 student should possess in math and English, and to increase the rigor over that of most current state standards.
•Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have initially adopted the standards.
•The federal government provided funding to develop tests as well as to provide incentives for states to adopt the standards.

Unfortunately, several recent public polls, including those conducted by Phi Delta Kappa International/Gallup and Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, discovered a lack of understanding among many Americans.

The results found

•a lack of knowledge and support for both CCSS and corresponding assessments.
•fewer than one-half of Americans with children in public schools had heard of CCSS.
•a majority of respondents said the standards will make the United States less competitive or have no effect.

Some information about the standards that has been circulating is simply inaccurate. Among the misinformation:

•The CCSS Initiative is an attempt to federalize education.
•The federal government is mandating that all states adopt the standards.
•The federal government will use the standards and assessments to collect personal data on students.

Strong opposition to the standards is growing from groups that span the political spectrum, such that 14 states have introduced legislation to delay adoption or to prohibit that state’s board of education from adopting the standards. Some groups oppose the standards because they feel that implementing the CCSS will result in more testing, even though many states are planning to replace current state-specific standardized tests with CCSS-focused tests. Budget-strapped districts have also complained of the costs required to train school staff and to replace current standardized tests.

It was clear that many attendees of the presentation were concerned about the need for initiatives to educate the public about the standards in order to facilitate their acceptance. The AAP is currently discussing what its role needs to be in supporting the standards and responding to critics and misinformation, but nothing official is forthcoming. And what about the NGA and CCSSO, the original developers of the CCSS? Well, it seems that in our hyper-political climate, the governors, 36 of whom are up for reelection in the 2016 midterm elections, are reluctant to take a strong stand supporting the standards for what appear to be obvious reasons.

Many districts have been purchasing and using curricula that address the new standards in an effort to have the standards fully implemented by the 2014–2015 school year. But the path to overall acceptance, adoption and implementation is still rocky and rife with obstacles.

Did You Know?
To assess students using the CCSS, there are two options for states to choose from: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), is a consortium of 18 different states plus the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands. The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), is made up of a state-led consortium that is developing assessments. These organizations were started to help states implement the CCSS into their core curricula. To simplify, CCSS identifies the standards that each curriculum should align to, while PARCC and SBAC help the states form tests that align to these required standards. So what’s the major difference between the two options? SBAC offers the adaptive computer component, meaning that as a student is tested, the level of questions increases in difficulty depending on the previous response. PARCC, however, uses streamlined questions, called fix-formed delivery, that have predetermined difficulty levels. For a more in-depth look at the options that each state faces, the Educational Testing Service developed a white paper with the facts. School Leadership 20 lists out the comparisons on its website as well. (DYK by Emeli Warren)