The Common Core State Standards Initiative establishes minimum expectations for what kindergarten through grade 12 students in the United States should know in English and mathematics by the end of each grade. The standards are not federally mandated but may be voluntarily adopted by states or school districts.
The standards do not constitute a curriculum. It is left up to districts, schools and teachers to determine how students may best be brought to an understanding of the areas of knowledge listed in the standards.
Common Core development
The Common Core was a project of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, an organization of the heads of state departments of education. It was created in the hopes that setting clear academic standards for students would help raise achievement and college-readiness.
The initial framework for the standards was developed by a task force established by the NGA. Members included educators, state governors, higher education experts and business leaders. Input was also solicited from national education organizations such as major teachers’ unions, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the International Reading Association. Successive drafts of the standards were posted online for public comment.
A completed version of the standards was released in 2010, and was adopted by most states within the following months, including New Hampshire.
Federal officials did not participate in the development of Common Core. However, following the publication of the standards, the U.S. Department of Education offered incentives to states to adopt the standards or a similar system of benchmarks, making it a condition for qualifying for a $3.4 billion grant competition called ‘Race to the Top’.
Status of Common Core in NH
The New Hampshire Board of Education voluntarily adopted the standards for math and English in July 2010, making them part of the state's full roster of curriculum standards, the NH College and Career Ready Standards.
Under New Hampshire law, local schools and districts do not have to adopt the state's standards. However, school districts are all required to administer state performance assessments in order to qualify for federal funding. In New Hampshire, the state Department of Education has opted to use AIR assessments, which are based on the NH College and Career Ready Standards (and therefore Common Core).
New Hampshire began using assessments based on Common Core standards in 2015.
Results from the first year of testing in 2015 showed 58% of New Hampshire students as ‘proficient’ or better in reading, and 46% meeting benchmarks in math. In 2014, the previous assessment system, the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP), had marked New Hampshire students 78% proficient in reading and 71% proficient in math.
The drop in performance ratings was cited by critics contending that the tests, or the Common Core itself, was inherently flawed. However, state officials were quick to note that while the tests were based on Common Core standards, the NECAP exams were based on a different system of grade-level expectations. That complicated attempts to make a straight comparison of scores between the two tests. “This information is honest, and it’s saying something very different than the former assessment did,” said Department of Education Commissioner Virginia Barry.
Some opponents of Common Core have cited concerns over privacy. The Common Core standards themselves do not require any sort of data tracking or collection.
The concerns may rather be traced back to the 2009 federal State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF), which offered education stimulus money to states on the condition that they adopt “college- and career-ready standards” and “establish and use pre-K-through-college and career data systems to track progress”.
NH has its own database for tracking student performance. This system does not include any personally identifiable information such as a students’ name. Instead, student data is collected under a unique, randomly generated identifier. Only aggregate data, not student-level data, may be accessed by the public.
The Legislature has been far from silent on Common Core, with various attempts to modify the state’s approach to the standards put forward since 2010. Thus far, any attempts to terminate state use of Common Core or delay implementation have failed.
“New Hampshire should continue to base assessments on Common Core.”
- Common Core standards were developed through a rigorous, evidence-based process which drew upon benchmarks in states and other countries demonstrating high levels of academic achievement.
- Common Core standards will help raise achievement levels in states which had previously lowered their standards in order to avoid penalties under the No Child Left Behind Act.
- Common Core standards are aligned with expectations in college and work environments, and will therefore leave students better prepared to succeed after leaving school.
- Standards-based learning systems like Common Core encourage deeper understanding and mastery of key skills rather than rote memorization across broader subject areas.
- Common Core empowers educators to be creative in the classroom, as it does not dictate lessons or curriculum.
- Common Core’s broad adoption across state lines will increase opportunities for collaboration and knowledge sharing among educators.
“New Hampshire should reject the Common Core.”
- Common Core's standards were created in a vacuum without sufficient input from lawmakers and educators.
- Common Core represents a ‘one size fits all’ approach to education that does not take into account differences in need and ability across states.
- Common Core was not properly tested before states began implementing it across the country.
- Common Core standards were adopted unilaterally by the New Hampshire state Board of Education, without giving the public the opportunity for input.
- Though not technically mandated, the Common Core standards effectively constitute a national system of standards, risking federal overreaching into a vital area of state-level authority.
- According to the Fordham Institute, there are better systems of standards in the United States, which means the prevalence of Common Core may ultimately constitute a ‘race to the middle’.