Promises versus Challenges Related to Implementing the Common Core State Standards

Image of inside of a capitol domeIn implementing the Standards and related assessments, states face a number of promises and challenges. Samples of these promises and challenges are below.

What potential promises may states enjoy from implementing the Standards?

A March 2010 NCSL LegisBrief reported that Standards proponents argued the Standards would further states’ educational goals and objectives in the following ways:

  • Articulate to parents, teachers and the general public expectations for students regardless of where the student lives.

  • Align textbooks, digital media and curricula to international standards.

  • Base professional development for educators on identified needs and best practices.

  • Develop and implement an assessment system to measure student performance against the Standards.

  • Evaluate policy changes needed to help students and educators meet the Standards.

Other assets offered by Standards proponents include:

  • Rigor – many states consider the Standards to be at least as rigorous, if not more so, than their current Standards.

  • State-driven  states, not the federal government, voluntarily developed and adopted the Standards.

  • Cross-state comparability – the Standards will become a common metric across 45 states and will allow for easy comparisons between schools, districts, and states.

  • Portability – because of the Standards' near ubiquity across the nation, students and parents will have common expectations in the classroom regardless of location or in the event of a move.

What possible challenges may states face in implementing the Standards?

Opponents of the Standards cite the following examples as challenges states face:

  • Federal involvement – Opponents point to at least three federal activates posing challenges to state authority over education policy: (1) The U.S. Department of Education (the Department) included adoption and implementation of "common standards" as a weighted criterion in awarding states Race to the Top Phase I grants. (2) The Department  required statewide adoption of "college- and career-ready standards" as a condition precedent before granting a state a waiver from No Child Left Behind. (3) The Department has provided $350 million to aid in the development of the assessment systems aligned to the Standards. Many observers, including NCSL, interpret these federal actions as attempts to impose federal policy preferences uniformly on the states; others interpret them as extralegal activities in violation of federal law. 

  • Unknown policy consequences – Implementation of the Standards may have unforeseen or unintended policy consequences. For example, a student beginning the 12th grade in 2014-2015, the target date for full implementation, may be a year behind in the new mathematics standards because his or her 11th grade mathematics courses were not yet aligned to the Standards. Many students may find themselves in similar situations. Consequently, student performance on the new Standards-aligned assessments may likely appear much weaker against student performance on statewide assessments than in previous years.

  • Cost – States stand to endure a net loss of time, money and effort in their adoption of the Standards. States and districts stand to incur costs associated with aligning instructional materials, curricula and teacher professional  development with the Standards.

  • Standards alone will not improve student achievement – Standards must be accompanied by rigorous curricula and formative tests that provide teachers with useful information about each student’s growth toward meeting the Standards.

The MOU signed between states and consortia include the following drawbacks for states:

  • Loss of autonomy over core content area assessments – all MOU require that, by the 2014-2015 school year, each state must employ the consortia’s assessments for federal accountability purposes under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind.

  • Potentially costly implementation – because both consortia will require computer-based assessments states may incur an upfront cost to purchase or upgrade the needed technological infrastructure to deliver the assessments.


Further Resources

Many voices from many perspectives have engaged in a lively conversation on the promises versus the challenges of the Standards. Access to some of these conversations is below: