College- and Career-Ready Standards

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Key Terms

Education systems only are as strong as the expectations they hold for their students. But for too long, our nation's schools have not set consistently rigorous goals for students. Students will face high expectations in the real world of college and careers. Aligning schools' standards with those high expectations is vital to ensuring student success, and to giving families and communities an accurate sense of students' progress. It's critical that, collectively, we raise the bar so that every student in this country—regardless of socioeconomic status, race, or geographic location—is held to high learning standards that will ensure students have the skills to compete in today's global, knowledge-based economy.

What Standards Are—and Aren't

Standards represent the goals for what students should learn. They are different from curriculum, which means what teachers teach, and how. Federal policies encourage states to adopt high standards, but do not touch on curriculum, which is a state and local matter.

The Need

There is growing consensus that America's students need to be prepared to compete in a world that demands more than just basic skills. Today, about a third of American students require remedial education when they enter college, and current college attainment rates are not keeping pace with our country's projected workforce needs. Moreover, America—once the global leader in college completion—now ranks 12th in completion rates for young adults. Therefore, educators, governors, business leaders, and parents have called for reforms in education that will help students succeed in a world of unprecedented connectivity and complexity.

One of the most powerful strategic levers of improvement is to ensure that every student is held to high academic standards. In an environment of high-quality standards, teachers can focus on the higher-order skills that students need to think critically, solve real-world problems, and be successful in the 21st century and beyond. And with assessments aligned to high-quality standards, teachers will be empowered to better monitor their students' progress and adjust their instructional practices to ensure every learner is on track to college and career readiness. Rigorous standards and assessments also will help parents and communities to determine the areas in which their schools need to improve and the areas in which they are thriving. Most important, strong standards help ensure that students receive coherent preparation aligned with the demands of the real world.

The Plan

Over the past several years, states have taken the lead in developing and adopting rigorous standards in English language arts and mathematics that build toward college and career readiness by the time students graduate from high school. Nearly every state now has adopted these college- and career-ready standards. The federal government has supported this state-led effort, in part, through ESEA Flexibility, which is helping to ensure that higher standards are being implemented for all students and that educators are being supported in transitioning to new standards. ESEA flexibility has enabled states to replace overly prescriptive and burdensome, "one-size-fits-all" aspects of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) with state-developed accountability systems. All states approved for ESEA flexibility have engaged in one of the following endeavors to raise expectations for students' academic performance:

  • Upgraded their existing standards to make them more rigorous by working with their four-year public universities to certify that mastery of standards ensures that students will not need to take remedial coursework upon admission to a postsecondary institution in the system; or
  • Adopted and implemented common standards developed by a consortium of states that build toward college and career readiness.

Additionally, federal policies have encouraged states to adopt high-quality assessments aligned with new, higher standards.

To support this effort, the U.S. Department of Education has provided more than $350 million to two consortia of states to develop high-quality assessments that are benchmarked to new standards. Forty-five states and the District of Columbia are preparing to implement those assessments in the coming school year.

As states are taking the lead in developing college- and career-ready standards and assessments, federal policy also has encouraged states to use measurable indicators of student learning and growth to inform educator professional development and evaluation. For example, under ESEA flexibility, states are developing systems that will evaluate principals and teachers based in part on student growth on test scores, along with measures that may include observation, peer review, feedback from parents and students, and classroom work.

The Common Core State Standards

To date, 45 states and the District of Columbia voluntarily have opted to participate in the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The federal government has not been involved in the design of these standards, which were developed in a partnership between the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. You can learn more at the Common Core State Standards website.

Federal Support for College- and Career-Ready Standards

For more information about how the U.S. Department of Education is supporting the state-led movement to ensure all students are held to high standards for learning and achievement, please visit these sites:

Myths and Facts about Standards and Federal Policy

A number of inaccurate statements on standards have circulated in recent months. Here are some of them, and the actual facts.

Myth

Fact

MYTH: The Common Core State Standards are a federally mandated curriculum.

FACT: The design, development, and adoption of standards have been led by states and supported by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA).

The Common Core State Standards are not a curriculum or set of lesson plans. Standards set forth clear concepts that students need to know and understand, while curricula and lesson plans are the steps and methods teachers use to support their students in reaching mastery of the standards.

Federal law requires that all states receiving Title I funds have high-quality standards. Federal law does not mandate a specific set of standards.

MYTH: The two consortia of states developing new assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards are required to provide individual student data to the Federal government.

FACT: The Department does not, and will not, request or collect personally identifiable information (PII) from the consortia and it is not legally authorized to create a student-level database. As stewards of the taxpayers' funds, the Department collects basic project information—such as aggregate research results, but not PII—to evaluate the progress the grantees are making.

MYTH: The Common Core State Standards Initiative creates a national student database and students' personal information will be collected at more detailed levels than ever before.

FACT: The Department does not collect personally identifiable information at all except as required for mandated tasks such as administering student loans and grants and investigating individual complaints.

The Department is not legally authorized to create a national, student-level database and has no intention to create a student records data system at the national level.

MYTH: The Department of Education instituted changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to pave the way for the Common Core State Standards.

FACT: The 2011 amendments to FERPA regulations did not require states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, nor did they make any changes to those standards. The amendments did provide greater clarity and guidance to states and researchers in the protection of student privacy.

MYTH: The Common Core State Standards and a brain mapping initiative recently announced by President Obama are being used to collect biometric data about children.

FACT: The Common Core State Standards Initiative does not collect or require the collection of any biometric data. Common Core has no connection to the BRAIN (Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies) Initiative, a recently-proposed scientific endeavor to map the brain.

MYTH: Student data can now be hosted "in the cloud" and commercial entities will be allowed to mine that data to market products to students.

FACT: While some schools and districts may independently contract with third-party data or technology firms that use cloud services, each school and district is still the owner of that information, and such a decision would have no connection to the federal government. Under FERPA, this data may not be shared with any third party (commercial entity) or used for any purpose without prior consent from the school or district for a specific purpose allowed under FERPA. These specific, allowable purposes do not include marketing products or selling items directly to students.