Part II of the latest Brown Center report is called “Measuring Effects of the Common Core.” Loveless creates two indexes of Common Core State Standards implementation by using data from two surveys of state education agencies. The 2011 index is based on a survey from that year, which reports how many activities—such as conducting professional development or adopting new instructional materials—states had undertaken while implementing the CCSS. “Strong” states are those that pursued at least three implementation strategies. The 2013 index uses survey data asking state officials when they plan to complete CCSS implementation. In this case, “strong” indicates full implementation by 2012–2013.
Analyzing the relationship between survey results and fourth-grade NAEP data for reading, Loveless finds little difference between “strong” states and the four states that never adopted Common Core. According to the 2011 index, strong implementers outscored the four states that didn’t adopt the Common Core by a little more than a scale point between 2009 and 13 (yet the small comparison group makes for less reliable findings). Strong states did a bit better relative to the 2013 index, but still outdid non-implementers by less than two NAEP points.
More interesting than these preliminary correlation studies, however, is a finding about how often reading teachers utilize fictional texts in fourth-grade classrooms. In 2013, fourth-grade teachers in strong implementation states who say they use fiction “to a great extent” exceed the portion who say the same about nonfiction by 12 percentage points—yet that is down from 23 percentage points in 2009, mostly due to an increased use of nonfiction. Even non-adoption states showed a decline of 9.8 percentage points during that time. One might take from this that the Common Core standards, with their emphasis on increased nonfiction reading, are having an instructional impact regardless of whether states have officially adopted them or not.
Loveless rightly notes that studying the impact of CCSS at the state level will continue to be challenging as politics, finances, and other concerns alter the status of implementation. As with so many things, one’s interpretation of these results likely depends on one’s view of CCSS, meaning that folks can look at these data and say, “That’s a promising step”—or, “That’s really disappointing.”
SOURCE: Tom Loveless, “2015 Brown Center Report on American Education: How Well Are American Students Learning?: Part II: Measuring Effects of the Common Core,” the Brookings Institution (March 2015).