This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
by Oscar Wang
The initiative, spearheaded by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, provides states with uniform school standards that align with modern college and career expectations. Already 46 states, including Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia have signed on, paving the way for full implementation in 2014.
The Corbett administration appears to be moving forward with their implementation. A December presentation by the Pennsylvania Department of Education outlined a plan for the state to revise academic standards and rewrite standardized tests “to reflect the content and rigor of the common core.”
Advocates of the common core say it will streamline and raise learning expectations and promote student achievement. But Tom Loveless, the study’s author, said that his analysis of results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress shows no correlation between tougher state standards and greater student achievement.
"States with higher, more rigorous cut points [for proficiency] did not have stronger NAEP scores than states with less rigorous cut points," he wrote.
According to the report, the greatest disparities in achievement occur within states, not between them. On the NAEP, the report said, variation in scores is four to five times higher within states than between them.
"Every state already has standards placing all districts and schools within its borders under a common regime,” the study said. “And despite that, every state has tremendous within-state variation in achievement."
Therefore, the study predicts common core standards will be unable "to penetrate to the core of schooling" and "will probably fail to dramatically affect what goes on in the thousands of districts and tens thousands of schools that they seek to influence."
The report also includes a sharp warning on paying too much attention to international standards and rankings.
Loveless, this time citing the tests administered through the Program for International Student Assessment, cautioned against drawing conclusions too quickly based on such assessments. Tracking of students, he says, "differs as much across countries as health care systems or the side of the street on which cares are driven."
Not only does this mean it would be unfair to directly compare different countries with different systems, but that some country data may be overstated or under-recorded as a result.
Rankings, to illustrate, do not tell the whole story of the direction a country’s education system is headed in. National rankings have "statistical properties that can mislead observers into thinking that large differences are small or small differences are large."
Proponents of a specific policy initiative may also use international data to draw "dubious casual conclusions" that only seek to benefit their position.
Similarly, it is easy to suffer from what the study calls the "A+ Country Fallacy." The fallacy is a habit of assuming the policies of higher-performing countries to be adoptable and better even if such policies were being utilized by lower-performing nations.
All in all, Loveless’s message is: when it comes to standards and data, nothing is simple.
"We have to be very careful when we’re looking at test score data," he said. "It’s not the same thing as how many points did the NY Giants score versus the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl."