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Comparing Standards: What Students Need for College

A report out this morning suggests the difficulty of the task that curriculum reformers potentially face in agreeing on a common standards that students must meet in order to be deemed "college ready" in language arts.

Researchers at the Regional Education Laboratory Southwest systematically analyzed four such sets of standards to see how well they lined up, in terms of content. Using the American Diploma Project's standards as a benchmark, the analysts looked in particular at each of the language arts college-readiness standards developed by the ACT and the College Board, as well as another set called Standards for Success, which was developed at the University of Oregon's Center for Educational Policy in 2003.

It turns out that the four sets don't overlap much. According to this report, the percentage of standards statements that line up completely or partly with the ADP benchmarks ranges from 34 percent for the ACT's standards to 77 percent for the College Board's standards.

And only 5 percent of the ADP content statements completely align with the content in all three comparison sets. If you count the number of statements with a partial match, that share rises to 27 percent. It seems that great minds disagree quite a bit on what students must know to succeed in college.

The researchers also found some variation with respect to the cognitive demand the standards required of students. Overall, though, they found that just over half of the standards statements in each of the four documents rated about 3 for their intellectual demand on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 representing the most complex skills. At level 3, students are required to demonstrate reasoning, planning skills, and the ability to make complex inferences.

The federal laboratory originally did this analysis for the Commission for a College Ready Texas, which was working on developing college-readiness standards for that state. The report released yesterday by the Institute of Education Sciences, however, is a little more rigorous than the first study.

What would really be interesting, though, would be to see how closely these standards match the English/language arts standards being developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers as part of their multistate Common Core State Standards Initiative. A final version of those standards is not due out until this spring, but already Kentucky has agreed to adopt the initiative's K-12 standards in both reading and math.


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