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Colleges' Role in Common-Core State Standards

Most of the buzz about the common-core sate standards has focused on K-12, but there is plenty that higher education can do to support the reform effort, according to educators gathered at the American Council on Education annual meeting in Washington this week.

The standards have been adopted so far by 44 states and the District of Columbia and implementation begins for many in 2011-12.

The hope is that these standards, which were created with the input of businesses among others, will prepare students with relevant knowledge to compete in the global economy. For this to become a reality, K-12 and higher education need to have a tighter link working on aligning curriculum, training teachers, and developing assessments, said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, one of the groups that led the standards project. "It's a good opportunity to link our systems together," he said.

Key areas for higher education collaboration:

Development and alignment of new instructional materials. College faculty can collaborate with K-12 teachers to write new instructional materials and work with states to evaluate proposed curricula. As high schools align their instruction to the new standards, colleges should be prompted to review their courses to make sure the transition is seamless.

Development of K-12 assessments. New tests tied to the standards must be developed. Two multistate consortia are beginning to design new assessment systems for grades 3 through high school. A common goal of the groups is for public colleges to recognize a score for 11th graders to show they are college-ready. That will also flag students who are not ready for credit-bearing college work while they are still in high school to reduce the need for remedial work in higher education.

Preparing new teachers and providing professional development. Colleges are already looking at new standards for teacher-training programs to make sure graduates are prepared to teach to the new standards. Just as there is a move away from seat time to more performance-based systems under the new standards, Wilhot suggested there will be more customized pathways for teacher preparation in higher education. Also professional development will be redesigned to be more site-based, specialized, and content-based for existing teachers.

Aligning key policies for college readiness. While the standards focus on English and math, there is more to preparing students for college. Higher education can help fill in the gaps by developing a more holistic definition of college readiness and establishing models for college-prep curriculum in other areas.

Engaging faculty for feedback

It will be at least five years until it is known if the common-standards effort has succeeded, said Robert Turner, assistant vice chancellor of the Oregon University System. Key in that evaluation will be talking with faculty who teach introductory courses in college to see if students were indeed ready. To this point, added Turner, higher education faculty members have not been at the table. It is essential for the sustainability of the common standards to engage faculty more deeply and share college-readiness expectations.

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