With Common Core, California May Reverse Troubling Track Record of Past Decade
Guest blog by Carrie Hahnel, Director of Research and Policy, The Education Trust-West
Today, The Education Trust released a new report showing that California lags behind other states on national test performance, suggesting that it may have a steeper road ahead than other states when it comes to implementing the Common Core State Standards. The paper, Uneven at the Start: Differences in State Track Records Foreshadow Challenges and Opportunities for Common Core, looks at patterns in 2011 performance and 2003 to 2011 improvement on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for fourth and eighth graders in reading and math.
When its overall reading and math performance and improvement are considered together, California has one of the weakest track records in the country. Most other states post higher NAEP scores than California. In fourth grade reading, for example, only a handful of states that include Louisiana, Mississippi, and New Mexico score lower. This would be less concerning if the state was improving faster than the U.S. as a whole. But since 2003, California has improved at about the same rate as the nation, meaning that it is not catching up with national averages, or with higher performing states.
California’s results are most striking—and concerning—for Latino students. When performance and improvement across all grades and subjects are considered together, California has among the nation’s weakest track records for Latino students, faring better than only one other state. And with Latinos comprising 54 percent of the student population in California, a whopping 3.2 million students, their academic success is critically important to this state’s future prosperity. Two of the states with the strongest track records for Latino students, Texas and Florida, also serve large Latino populations, dispelling the myth that California schools and educators face near-insurmountable obstacles not seen in other parts of our country.
We all know that the Common Core will stretch students to perform and learn at higher levels than ever before. We know that the instructional shifts this will require of our educators are not insignificant, and that serious energy will need to be invested in new teaching strategies, instructional tools and materials, professional development, and teacher collaboration and shared planning. This NAEP data should serve as a stark reminder that for California, this urgency must be felt even more strongly, and that realizing the potential of the Common Core may be more challenging here than in some other states.
With the shift to the Common Core, California has the opportunity to reverse the troubling achievement trends of the past and demonstrate that it can not only compete with other states, but that it can also surge ahead. The $1.25 billion that Governor Brown and the legislature have agreed to invest in Common Core implementation is a terrific start and demonstrates that California takes this opportunity seriously.
Now, districts must invest that new money wisely. We suggest districts start by assessing how ready they are to implement the core and identifying their most urgent priorities. Then, districts should spend dollars designated for Common Core to address those priority areas, which may include providing teachers with collaborative time for developing lessons and strategies for teaching the Common Core; investing in the development of district-level capacity and expertise to support the implementation of the Common Core; working with teachers and administrators to ensure they are teaching content aligned with the standards; expanding access to open source lesson banks; ensuring English learners and students below grade level have the supports they need to meet the demands of the core; and building the technology capacity, bandwidth, and expertise needed to support the new computer-adaptive assessments and expand educator access to online content and professional development.
With this new money, California districts have been offered an unprecedented opportunity to ready their educators and students for the Common Core. This may just be the turning point needed to raise expectations and performance for all students, so California’s lagging performance becomes a thing of the past.
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