How valid is the claim that Common Core State Standards make students more college ready?
A common-sense claim made by supporters of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is that universities would know that high school graduates from CCSS states have met consistent high standards of academic achievement and are ready for college.
I decided to spend a couple of hours looking for data that support or refute the claim. First, I looked for comparisons of state standards from before the CCSS and found a 2008 EdNext
article titled In Few States Set World-Class Standards – In Fact Most States Render the Notion of Proficiency Meaningless
, by Paul E. Peterson and Frederick Hess. They ranked states against the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and reported that South Carolina, Massachusetts, and Missouri had the highest standards and Georgia, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, the lowest.
Next, I looked for how students from those six states did on the SAT, a barometer of college readiness. I looked at SAT data from 2007
, the time of the Peterson and Hess report and before the CCSS and data from 2014
, after all six states had adopted the CCSS. (Note that since 2014 South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have repealed the CCSS
Here are the data. As in the discussion below, high standard states are in blue, low standards states in red.
Notice that across the board students’ SAT scores in a given state barely changed between 2007 and 2014, and only in Tennessee
did their scores improve (by less than 0.2 %). Conceivably, the test has gotten harder, so that maintaining a score represents improvement, but absent evidence of that, there doesn’t seem to be any CCSS effect on SAT scores within a state before and after adoption. (A 2014 article in the Atlantic
by Lindsey Tepe reports that a new Common Core aligned SAT test will be released until 2016.)
Comparing SAT scores across states doesn’t reveal much CCSS effect either. Among the three high participation rate states, Massachusetts students scored around 12% better South Carolina and Georgia in 2007. But Massachusetts scores dropped 5% after adopting the CCSS. In 2014 Massachusetts students scored about 8% better than those in South Carolina and Georgia. But all of this tightening between the three states resulted from Massachusetts’ lower scores.
Among states with low SAT participation, Missouri students only scored about 4% higher than their peers in Oklahoma and Tennessee in both 2007 and 2014.
In a bit of a digression, Powerscore
lists average SAT scores by colleges and universities. Their list shows that the average scores of entering freshman are nearly always higher than the scores shown above. I suppose one could try to crosscheck those
scores with what states the students come from, in search of a CCSS effect.
This post is by no means a scholarly study. Rather, it’s what I found while spending a couple of hours on the internet searching for reasons to support or refute the claim that CCSS prepare students for college. I chose SAT because it’s an outside, impersonal metric, as opposed to things like GPAs, letters of recommendation, and involvement in extra-curricular activities, which could well be better indicators of a student’s college readiness.
I hope I have been fair and will absolutely reconsider my conclusion in the face of superior arguments and data. But for now I can’t find anything to support the claim, which amounts to a refutation.