Despite the hubbub from teachers unions and general skepticism on social media, the efforts by many states to implement higher standards for student proficiency appear to be working, according to a new report released Tuesday.
“It’s been six years since states moved en masse to adopt higher K-12 academic standards, and it’s now clear that the standards have made an impact,” said Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success. “More than 40 states have maintained high standards, and now that we have multiple years of results with high quality assessments, we can see that higher standards are leading to improved outcomes.”
The analysis shows two primary findings. First, states are being more honest with parents. Earlier studies have indicated politicians have gamed state tests to make parents and others feel that students were performing well, even as the gold-standard National Assessment of Educational Progress scores were showing an “honesty gap” with the state scores. The second finding is the new higher standards appear to be working, especially for those who have only been taught under the high standards.
The results are particularly noteworthy for third-grade math. Third graders have been taught under the new standards since beginning school, and while some parents have found the math confusing compared to how they were taught, most states are seeing students achieve higher proficiency under the new standards.
Delaware Democratic Gov. Jack Markell joined a conference call with reporters on Tuesday to explain how his state, which had been losing business and jobs to other states because of low education standards, had worked to implement high standards and give students better opportunities. He took particular note of how many state testing standards had declined over time to give parents, teachers, administrators, and politicians a false sense of complacency that left those only receiving a high school education with a much lower chance of succeeding compared to those who went on to college.
“The analysis released by the Collaborative today really affirms what we believed to be true all along, which is when given the chance, our students can rise to the challenge,” explained Markell, who pointed out more students in Delaware are achieving proficiency, passing Advanced Placement tests, and succeeding in dual-enrollment college courses. Markell stressed the importance of states keeping high standards and having standardized tests aligned to those standards so that teachers and administrators can accurately learn best practices for educating children.
The higher standards benefit those who choose not to go on to college by giving them a stronger knowledge base from their primary education, but Markell also pointed out the benefits for those who do go on to college by reducing the need for remedial courses to learn what was supposed to be taught in lower grades.
The rapid increase of remedial education has policymakers and educators worried. Fifteen years ago, during the 1999-2000 school year, there were 1.04 million undergraduate college students enrolled in at least one remedial (high school-level) course. By 2011-2012, this number had nearly tripled to 2.70 million.
Hanna Skandera, Secretary of Education for New Mexico, who was appointed by the state’s Republican governor, reiterated Markell: “These findings send a clear message that now is the time to double-down on the standards and high expectations we have for our kids.”
While new analysis will be needed as states continue to implement higher standards, this early study offers support to those championing the standards as it shows improved student performance and more accurate testing.
The full analysis is available below.