Are our children really prepared as we tell them they are? A
new report from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) examining how state standards (prior to the Common Core State Standards) match up against international benchmarks doesn’t believe kids in the vast majority of states are getting an accurate read on how ready they are to compete in the global marketplace. In addition to reinforcing the fact that there is considerable disparities in state performance standards, exposing a large gap in expectations between the states with the highest standards and the states with the lowest standards, the report reveals that the majority of states’ expectations
fall well short of international standards in what they expect students to know and be able to do. Even worse, the study concludes that states for years have been misleading students, parents and educators on the readiness of their children. Leaders on both sides of the aisle have benefited from lowering the bar and falsely claiming readiness, when, in fact, their students are not prepared. For example, the report points out that in 2011, Georgia considered 87% of 8th graders proficient in math, but only 24% actually met the international proficiency bar. Alabama went from 77% meeting the state standards for proficiency, compared to 15% under the international standard, Colorado from 80% to 35%. If geography dictates access to higher expectations and the majority of our children are ill-prepared for the global economy—and worse, we are telling them that they are prepared—is there any hope?
Yes. We have examples of states sidestepping their politics and putting students first, resulting in both increased honesty and results. For example, Massachusetts, one of the first states to embrace higher standards and standards-based accountability, continues to outperform others states on
international assessments. The AIR report states that using international standards, Massachusetts climbed to 57% proficient from 52% under its own standards. Tennessee, which used the
2007 US Chamber of Commerce’s Leader and Laggards report to take action and embrace higher standards and transparency, fared better than most of its peers in being clear and honest with its students and parents (while 35% met the state math proficiency benchmark, 21% were proficient by international standards). After taking action and raising the bar, Tennessee last year was the
fastest growing state in the country on the national NAEP tests. In addition, more than 40 states have now adopted and started implementing Common Core State Standards, which are 90% aligned to the international standards of top-performing countries, setting an even bar across these states and preparing their students to compete with children from other countries. Running from accountability or higher standards is not the answer. While change won’t happen overnight and implementation is complex difficult work, we owe it to our children to make sure all of the new opportunities of the 21st-century economy are open to them. Let’s be honest with them and ourselves about how well we’re doing.
Ann Whalen is senior advisor to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Prior to returning to the U.S. Department of Education, she served as the director of policy for Education Post. Whalen has served more than five years in the Obama Administration with the U.S. Department of Education. At the department, Ann was director of the Implementation and Support Unit, providing technical assistance to ...