Bright ideas for tech-savvy educators, right to your inbox

Raising the Bar: All Together or One at a Time?

Thursday, June 27, 2013 -- Kristin Flynn

“Small wonder parents are crying out for grades that mean something.”

A recent article in The Economist asks the question; If the federal government penalizes states where pupils do badly in school, but lets the states themselves set the standards for passing, will the states a) make the tests harder; or b) simplify the tests?

Well, The Economist found that, “Historically, the answer has been b). The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), a federal body, looked at how the states’ definitions of “proficiency” at math and reading compared with its own rigorous one. For grade 4 reading in 2009, not one state held its pupils to as high a standard (see map). Fifteen states labeled a child “proficient” when the NCES would have called her skills “basic”; 35 bestowed that honor on children performing at “below basic” level.”

This, of course, led to another discussion of the Common Core standards. The article addressed objections from both the political left and right, while pointing out that the standards have the support of most state governors, the National Parent Teacher Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In addition, it notes that a study conducted by MetLife indicated that the more teachers know about Common Core, the more accepting they are of the standards.

Perhaps the article's tipping point is when it says that, according to Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), school systems with exams based on robust national standards – such as Common Core – score 16 points better on the PISA international benchmark test than school systems without them. And while the effect is larger than almost any other national variable, there is dispute at cause and effect.

As the standards debate continues, the article astutely concludes: “The debate might be more scholarly if everyone involved had mastered patterns of association in bivariate data—as the Common Core demands of 13-year-olds.”