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States nervous about new Common Core curriculum standards

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The standards are designed to be more rigorous and to encourage deeper critical thinking skills—but implementing them poses a challenge.

In Kentucky this year, the percentage of elementary and middle school students who rated “proficient” or better on statewide math and reading tests declined by about a third. Kentucky high schoolers also experienced a double-digit percentage point decline in both subjects.

Those results might sound dismal, but they were better than state education officials had expected. Kentucky is the first state to tie its tests to the new national Common Core state standards in English and math, and state officials had projected that the new, tougher standards could yield declines of as much as 50 percent.

Kentucky’s experience is likely to be repeated in dozens of other states. Forty-five states have signed on for the Common Core state standards in both subjects, while Minnesota has adopted them just for English. The standards, which were developed jointly by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and released in 2010, are designed to be more rigorous than the current standards in most states, and to encourage deeper critical thinking skills.

Chris Minnich, incoming executive director at the Council of Chief State School Officers, says all 46 states are beginning to implement the standards, though few are as far along as Kentucky.

“Generally, most of the states are in the information sharing and training stage with their teachers,” he says.

National tests linked to the Common Core curriculum standards will be released in 2014, and Minnich thinks many states will see dramatic changes that school year. But education experts say those changes won’t be easy—and states might see a pushback from parents.

(Next page: Facing down the backlash)

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