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State board turns to common standards

The clock is ticking for the State Board of Education to decide whether to enroll Colorado in the growing number of states that have adopted the national Common Core Standards in language arts and math.

Education Commissioner Dwight Jones is scheduled to give the board a telephone briefing Wednesday on differences between the common standards and recently adopted state standards in those subjects.

The board is scheduled to meet again by telephone on Aug. 2 to vote on adoption. That’s the deadline for states to adopt the standards if they wish to remain eligible for the second round of Race to the Top funding, for which Colorado has applied.

The core standards were not created by the federal government but rather were developed under the leadership of the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. But, the U.S. Department of Education has made it clear it supports the effort.

While many in the education world are backing the common standards, some conservative and libertarian groups oppose them, arguing that they would lead to an unwise federalization of K-12 education and that the proposed standards aren’t sufficiently rigorous.

State board member Peggy Littleton, R-5th District, has publicly criticized the common standards for those reasons. Some groups are trying to make a test case on the issue in Massachusetts, where the state board is scheduled to vote Wednesday.

Colorado’s reading and math content standards are about 90 percent aligned with the proposed national standards in those subjects, according to an analysis prepared for the Colorado Department of Education.

The final draft of the standards was released June 2, and CDE contracted with WestEd to do a line-by-line comparison of Colorado’s math and language standards with the common core. (WestEd is a California-based non-profit education research and consulting organization that has worked with CDE on a number of reform projects, including creation of the new Colorado standards.)

The WestEd analysis also was reviewed by subcommittees of experts that helped develop the Colorado standards. The documents were released late last week.

Jo O’Brian, CDE assistant commissioner, said, “The bottom line is that 90 percent of the two standards align. … There is extreme similarity.”

The primary differences are “only in two or three grades in mathematics,” O’Brien said. She noted that in some areas the common standards are more detailed and more like curriculum than are the Colorado standards. In some cases the two sets of standards differ on what things students should learn in which grades.

“The state board is going to have to talk that one through,” she added.

The federal R2T requirement for the common standards allows a 15 percent variation between a state’s standards and the common ones. Given that, O’Brien said, “We already are adoption-ready.”

Half the states have adopted the common standards, and advocates hope another 15 or so will do so by Aug. 2. The only other Western states to adopt so far are Arizona, Nevada and Wyoming. In California an advisory panel has recommended adoption.

Supporters of the common core envision that the standards will be the foundation for multi-state achievement tests that may roll out in 2014. Colorado has been a participant in both common standards development and in groups that are working on the multi-state tests.

That sort of multi-state standardization is what worries critics of the common standards. In a May 27 audio interview with Ben DeGrow of the Independence Institute, Littleton said, “Education should be taken care of by parents and states” and that the common standards push “flies in the face of choice in education and local control.”

Littleton also debated common standards with state Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, in a June 4 Independence Institute video.

Last December the state board unanimously adopted new standards in 11 content areas, dance; comprehensive health and physical education; math; music; reading, writing and communicating; science; social studies; drama and theatre arts; visual arts; world languages; and English language proficiency.