Studies Cast More Doubt on Academic Gains Attributed to Common Core

Common Core
AP Photo/AJ Mast

Two new studies suggest that any positive impact from the Common Core standards on students’ academic progress may either be negligible or indeterminable for years to come.

One year after the Brookings Institution’s 2014 Brown Center Report found that states whose math standards were less like Common Core performed better on national assessments than those that had standards more like Common Core, Brookings senior fellow Tom Loveless discovered only a 1.11-point gain in reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam for states that are considered “strong implementers” of the controversial standards.

The 2015 Brown Center Report examined student progress on the fourth grade NAEP reading exam by analyzing the scores of students in states considered to be “strong implementers” of the standards and those seen as “medium implementers.” The four “non-adopter” states of Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia served as the study’s control group.

Loveless explains some of the issues in analyzing student data that reflect the Common Core are that not all states that adopted the standards did so at the same time, spent the same amounts of money on programs for implementation, or planned to fully implement them at the same designated time.

As a result, two implementation indexes were used – one for 2011 and one for 2013. For the former, 19 states were categorized as “strong implementers” of Common Core, and, from 2009-2013, they outscored the four “non-adopter” states by little more than one scale score point.

According to the report:

The 1.11-point advantage in reading gains for strong CCSS implementers is similar to the 1.27-point advantage reported last year for eighth grade math. Both are small. The reading difference in favor of CCSS is equal to approximately 0.03 standard deviations of the 2009 baseline reading score. Also note that the differences were greater in 2009-2011 than in 2011-2013 and that the “medium” implementers performed as well as or better than the strong implementers over the entire four year period (gain of 0.99).

The 2013 implementation index features only 12 states rated as “strong implementers” of Common Core and 34 rated as “medium implementers,” as well as the same four “non-adopter” states.

“Strong implementers” in 2009-2013 gained 1.27 NAEP points compared to -0.24 among the non-adopters, a difference of 1.51 points, the report states. Meanwhile, the 34 states categorized as “medium implementers” gained only 0.82 point.

According to the study:

The overall advantage of 1.51 points over non-adopters represents about 0.04 standard deviations of the 2009 NAEP reading score, not a difference with real world significance. Taken together, the 2011 and 2013 indexes estimate that NAEP reading gains from 2009-2013 were one to one and one-half scale score points larger in the strong CCSS implementation states compared to the states that did not adopt CCSS.

“The optimism of CCSS supporters is understandable, but a one and a half point NAEP gain might be as good as it gets for CCSS,” concludes Loveless.

U.S. News & World Report featured another study, conducted by Gates Foundation-funded American Institutes for Research (AIR), in which researchers found student performance in English and math – both subject areas covered by the Common Core standards – on the ACT test showed “larger, more immediate” improvement than other subjects tested by the ACT.

The researchers said that the small changes were statistically significant, but also admitted the gains were not entirely caused by the Common Core since the positive changes were made “in the years both immediately before and after the implementation” of the standards, and could have been attributed to instruction adjustments in anticipation of the actual changes due to Common Core.

“Are we to believe that scores improved because kids were thinking about the Common Core a year prior to implementation?” asked Carol Burris, an award-winning principal of South Side High School in New York. “I doubt that was the case. ACT exams measure the skills that are built over a students’ entire education. To attribute any gains (or losses) to the Common Core is more than a stretch at this time.”


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.