How do we boost our students’ performance in math? Do what the top-performing countries do: Adopt and then teach to truly first rate standards for academic content. That’s the conclusion of a new study that should buoy the spirits of people who champion the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS) here in the US.
The study, by William Schmidt of Michigan State University, offers several powerful findings. Among them:
- Common Core State Standards are very similar to academic content standards in countries where students beat the pants off ours in math. (Schmidt calls these “A+ standards.) He found a 90 percent overlap in content. He also found that CCSS and those other countries presented math topics in a similar order.
- Most current state standards in the US are very different from standards in the superstar countries. He found that the overlap for states ranged from 62 to 83 percent.
- Most current state standards present more content than the A+ standards do. As such, they’re “a mile wide and an inch deep,” stressing quantity over quality of learning.
- Standards like CCSS can raise student performance. States with standards that most closely resemble CCSS performed better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). (Schmidt looked at 8th grade math.) Yes, this is just a correlation, but it challenges the claim of Common Core opponents that states with strong standards don’t get any bang for their buck on NAEP.
- Add high expectations on state tests to the mix, and performance might rise even more. States with standards that resemble CCSS and that set a high passing score on their state tests were still more likely to get higher scores on NAEP. Again, we shouldn’t confuse correlation with causation, but the results are very suggestive. The best content standards imaginable will not reach their potential if we do not ask students to show that they have truly mastered them. The fact that so many US states set the bar in math and science so low should give us pause.
Schmidt’s research should help arm the 46 states that have adopted CCSS against the small but growing chorus of voices urging those states to back down on Common Standards. Many Common Core opponents claim that standards don’t matter, or that CCSS are worse than current state standards—or both. Schmidt is giving them a run for their money.