A newly-released report from the Center for American Progress has found that gains are being made in student achievement across numerous reform-oriented states and school districts.
The report, "A Look at the Education Crisis: Tests, Standards, and the Future of American Education," suggests that the implementation of the Common Core standards throughout the country have helped teachers to improve their instructional methods. The authors maintain that the data used for the study demonstrates that the use of the standards have in fact aided in a rise in student outcomes.
Massachusetts was one such state found to be making gains, as the percentage of fourth graders to score at or above proficiency levels on math rose from 41% to 54% over the last 10 years, which amounts to around 7,000 additional students reaching proficiency levels in the state.
"The states and districts that have boosted achievement offer valuable lessons to other communities seeking to improve the learning and achievement of all their students—including students of color and students from low-income families," said Ulrich Boser, Senior Fellow at CAP. "When it comes to addressing the nation's education crisis, there is a growing consensus that higher standards can help drive up achievement."
Data for the report was taken from The National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, and the Trial Urban District Assessment, or TUDA. Estimates are made for the total number of students at or above proficiency levels for each disaggregated group.
Despite these increases, report authors Ulrich Boser, Perpetual Baffour, and Steph Vela maintain that achievement levels are still low in a number of areas. For example, only about 120 black fourth-grade students in Detroit are proficient or above according to test scores. The situation is even more dire in Cleveland, where only 30 Latino eighth-grade students are considered proficient in math.
The report concludes with several recommendations to boost scores across the nation, including implementing higher Common Core standards, aligning assessments with Common Core standards, using high-quality instructional materials, hiring high-quality teachers, and pushing for fiscal equality.
The authors argue that implementing Common Core standards will offer students consistency and shared expectations across state lines while promoting critical thinking skills that will become necessary later in life. In addition, they say the standards will keep states from being able to gloss over low performance for a number of subgroups and also allow educators to be able to compare performance across state and district lines.
High-quality instructional materials, they write, will lead to challenging classes that allow students to achieve their full potential. They maintain that students who participate in higher-level courses in high school are more likely to continue on to earn a bachelor's degree in college.
These classes mean little without high-quality teachers. The authors point to another study performed by researcher Bill Sanders who looked at children in Tennessee schools, finding that children who were placed with low-quality teachers scored in the 44th percentile on statewide math assessments, while those placed with high-quality teachers scored in the 96th percentile on the same exam.