Common Myths about the Common Core

Recently, there has been a concerted effort to end the push for common standards. The anti-standards movement was particularly vocal after the release of New York’s test results. I’ve noticed a whole lot of misinformation, fear mongering, and outright lies being spread about the new Common Core State Standards.

Considering the Common Core is coming to Connecticut soon and to Bridgeport this year, I would like to set the record straight and dispel some myths surrounding the new assessments.

Here is my list of five myths about the new standards:

1. The test scores in New York dropped dramatically and show a drop in proficiency.

While it is true that the number of K-8 students in New York deemed “proficient” in Math and English dropped dramatically, there is no baseline to determine average proficiency yet. Simply put, there hasn’t been a drop in proficiency and no one but columnists and anti-reform activists are spinning it that way. The New York Department of Education realizes these scores cannot be weighed against the old tests. The NY State Education Commissioner, John B. King, Jr., issued a statement which “emphasized that the results do not reflect a decrease in performance for schools or students.”[1]

Anti-reform activists are misinterpreting the data to further their own political agendas.

2. The Common Core sets the curriculum.

The Common Core State Standards are standards, not curriculum. The Common Core sets bench-marks that every child should reach, but does not outline teaching method.

This is even noted within the standards themselves. Page five of the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics reads: “These standards do not dictate curriculum or teaching methods.”[2]

Education writer Jay Mctighe uses the analogy of homebuilding to explain the difference. “The standards are like building code. Architects and builders must attend to them but they are not the purpose of the design.” He also uses is the difference between the rules of a game and coming up with a strategy to beat that game as an example. The rules may determine the outcome, but the strategy will determine how you actually play the game, or as Stu Silberman of Education Weekly notes, “Standards set the bar and destination while curriculum is the way to get there.”[3]

One popular myth that’s been floating around the internet is that students must read all the texts listed for each grade level. In truth, the books listed are just examples that illustrate the proper length, quality and complexity of books each grade level should be reading. Saying students should be capable of reading a particular book is very different than saying that students must read a particular book. [4]

Another note to add—The Common Core state standards are just that – state standards. While they are endorsed by the federal government, the standards were developed through an agreement between state officials. The 46 states, District of Columbia, and U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity all adopted the Common Core Standards voluntarily.

There has been a lot of hysteria over this issue, with people claiming that common standards are “national standards,” which will narrow curriculum and take emphasis away from subjects not being tested.

Common standards have never been successfully instituted in this country; however, if you look at other countries with nationalized education standards, you’ll see that there is little correlation between common standards and loss of local control.

The study, International Lessons about National Standards, used Germany’s experience with nationalizing education as an example. In 1997, when Germany reformed their educational system, and moved from state to national standards, they actually gained more local control over curriculum than ever before. Prior to 1997, the 16 federal states controlled even staffing. However, after implementation of national standards and assessments, controls were loosened and schools gained more autonomy. [5]

3. The costs associated with the new assessments are extravagant and take resources away from classrooms.

The new tests cost more money, and, no one can contest that. However, many states (including Connecticut) are helping districts foot the bill. Further, you aren’t paying for multiple choice tests. The new tests are designed to test critical thinking skills, which is a harder skill to measure. These tests were developed in consortiums so that resources could be pooled. If individual states tried to develop a similarly designed test it would cost them significantly more money, without the added bonus of being able to share resources and tools between states using the same tests. [6]

One of the major cost-drivers for the new test is the computer requirements for each student taking the exam. Bridgeport has already gathered some of the resources needed to implement the tests, and has aggressively applied for additional funding. If granted, state funding will cover at least 69% of the technology costs, if not more. Additionally, Bridgeport has already incorporated the funding into next year’s operating budget.

The whole “Teachers will be fired” argument, at least in Bridgeport, does not stand

An added benefit for districts like Bridgeport is that the new computers can be used for other purposes and will benefit the students.

4. Common Core assessments are just multiple choice standardized tests.

The assessments developed to meet the Common Core State Standards are not merely more traditional computer-graded multiple choice exams. Although the test administered last year to New York students was paper and there were multiple choice questions on the assessments, there were also other types of questions such as constructed response items.

Connecticut belongs to the Smarter Balanced assessment consortium of states, which has developed an online assessment. These assessments have variety of question types, including technology enhanced questions that ask students to edit text or draw an object, and long and short constructed essay questions, which requires students to think through a problem and write out their own solutions. [7]

5. There were no educators involved in the writing of the new exams.

I’m not even sure how anyone believed this myth. Yes, a testing company put the exams together, but to think that no educators were consulted with this is absurd.

Test questions on the Smarter Balanced assessment, which is what Connecticut students are piloting this year, were written and reviewed by a board of educators from the governing states in the consortium, and will be further reviewed by educators in Connecticut this year. [8]

Even the standards themselves were developed and refined by teams of teachers and content experts from the 48 states that took part in the development process. The standards then underwent two public comment periods, where over 10,000 comments were collect and considered before the final draft was adopted.


[1] John B. King, State Education Department Releases Grade3-8 Assessment Results, Press Release, August 7, 2013.

[2] Common Core State Standards for Mathematics, page 3

[3] Jay Mctighe, Edutopia, Common Core Big Idea Series 2: The Standards are not Curriculum, December 4th, 2012; Stu Silberman, Education Weekly, Standards-Not Curriculum: Three Analogies, August 5th, 2013

[4] Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subject, Appendix B, Page 2

[5] William H Schmidt, Richard Houang, Sharif Shakrani, International Lessons about National Standards, Page 11, Page 13.

[6] Linda Darling-Hammond and Frank Adamson, The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education Developing Assessments of Deeper Learning: The Costs and Benefits of Using Tests that Help Students Learn, March 15th, 2013, page 21

[7] Sample Items and Performance Tasks,

[8] It is noted multiple times on the Smarter Balanced and Common Core State Standards websites, including in the introduction of the Common Core State Standards themselves, that educators developed and reviewed the test questions. On the State Department website there is post asking for applications of teachers who would like to help review test items and resources. Introduction to Common Core State Standards, Page1, June 2nd, 2012;; Connecticut State Department of Education


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