Some Kentucky students working under the umbrella of the recently adopted common core standards are showing signs of faster progression and heightened college and career readiness levels than students in older curriculum models, according to a recent study by the American Institutes for Research.
Zeyu Xu, principal researcher on the study, said the findings should not serve as an “assessment of common core itself.”
“The motivation of this study is to look at student experience during the transition years of common core,” he said.
The Common Core State Standards have been adopted by 43 states as of October 2014. Kentucky began implementing the standards during the 2011-2012 school year.
Researchers in this study compared the ACT performance of three cohorts of 8th grade students who started high school with similar levels of academic proficiency, according to the study.
The first Kentucky cohort took the ACT in 2010–11, so it was not affected by the common core standards implementation. The second and third cohort took the ACT in 2011–12 and 2012–13, one and two years after the initial implementation of the common core standards.
Xu said students in the latter two cohorts outperformed students in the first cohort in terms of ACT composite score and in subjects directly tied to the common core standard reform, like math and science.
In fact, the students in the latter cohorts outperformed other students by up to .25 points on the ACT composite score. That is equivalent to about 3 months of additional learning, the report claims.
The progress was consistent for students in both high and low poverty environments, Xu said.
Xu stressed that the heightened performance of the students with more exposure to the common core cannot be directly attributed to the common core standards.
“We are very careful not to draw any causal conclusions there, because around the time of common core there were a lot of other things happening,” he said.
This includes a new set of education standards, curriculum reform, education evaluator system reforms, new testing reforms and new school accountability system in Kentucky, he said.
“With all of those changes you can imagine all that is happening in schools, everyday,” he added.
To determine if the progress students are making is truly due to changes brought on by the common core, Xu said “we would have to nail the question of what would have happened without the common core.”
“That is really the key,” he said.
Xu believes more data and evidence is needed to be able to answer the question of if the common core standards “work, or not.”
For instance, Xu said data regarding social development and behavior outcomes should also be studied, in addition to test scores.
But, in the short term, he said the evidence seems to be clear that students seem to be making progress despite transitioning curriculum.