Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which are designed to give the United States a uniform metric of academic standards. As we move from No Child Left Behind’s focus on testing and achievement to the CCSS era of rigorous curriculum uniformity, the question arises: Does demanding high standards hurt struggling students?
That’s unlikely so—and new evidence actually shows that high standards help students who are falling behind. Peter W. Cookson Jr. and I present these findings in our new Chart You Can Trust, High Standards Help Struggling Students: New Evidence. To complete our analysis, we looked at the rates of below basic students on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam compared with the strength of state standards. NAEP assesses student achievement in fourth-grade reading and math and eighth-grade reading and math. Considering the period from 2003 to 2011, in three of these four groups, we found a greater reduction in the percentage of a state’s below basic students in states that set high proficiency standards than those that set low proficiency standards. These results suggest that students who are struggling academically are better off in states that set high standards.
Beyond that, our analysis also found that socioeconomic status does not play a significant role in reducing the percentage of below basic students. We looked at median family income by state to see if wealth was a contributing factor to the reductions we found in the first part of our analysis: The answer was no. In fact, for fourth-grade math, we found a 26-percent reduction in the below basic student population in states that set high standards from 2003-11. Within those states, consider Colorado and New Mexico—two states that set high standards in fourth-grade math, but have median family incomes on opposite sides of the $61,082 U.S. average.
Of course, external factors like whether a student’s family can afford trips to libraries and museums, reading glasses and three meals a play a huge role in predicting academic performance. But factors under our control, like setting high standards, play an essential role too. Along with targeted instruction and supports, high standards will move the rate of performance and progress faster for those students who are currently being left behind.This is compelling new evidence that makes a case for holding all students to the same high academic standards across all states regardless of socioeconomic challenges.
Photo Credit: League of Education Voters