Penn GSE Study Finds Significant Differences Between Common Core Standards and States’ Curricula

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Media Contact:Jill DiSanto-Haines | jdisanto@upenn.edu | 215-898-4820June 6, 2011

PHILADELPHIA — The states face major changes as they prepare to bring the recently adopted Common Core Standards into their schools, according to a study from the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.

Through analysis of data compiled by the Council of Chief State School Officers, Penn GSE Dean Andy Porter worked with three doctoral students to compare the Common Core curriculum with current state standards and assessments.  Established in 2010 by state governors and school officials, the Common Core aims to provide clear educational expectations for K-12 students, and the new standards have been adopted by nearly all of the 50 states.

Porter’s team found substantial differences between existing state standards and the Common Core in both math and English language arts.  The gap was due in part to the two standards’ emphasizing different curricular content but also because the Common Core emphasizes different cognitive skill demands on students: the Common Core devotes less time to memorization and performing procedures and more time to understanding and analyzing written material.

The discrepancies between the standards and assessments that the states currently have in place and the newly adopted Common Core mean that serious adjustments are on the horizon regarding what teachers are expected to teach and how states assess what students learn.

“Adoption of the Common Core standards will represent considerable change, especially at grade levels,” Porter said.  “Based on our results, the Common Core could serve as a change for the better, particularly for those who advocate for a greater emphasis on higher-order skills.  Those hoping for a more tightly focused curriculum may be disappointed because, by that measure, the Common Core is only slightly more focused in math and not at all in English language arts.”

The research team also benchmarked the Common Core against international education standards.  The researchers were surprised to find that the Common Core’s emphasis on higher-level thinking skills is not consistent with curricular standards in countries that currently outshine the U.S. in educational assessments.  Nations like Finland, Japan and Singapore do not focus as much on the higher-order skills as does the Common Core.

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