Studying the Impact of College- and Career-Readiness Standards

Andy Porter
Friday, April 8, 2016


Twenty20

The nationwide effort to implement college- and career-ready standards is designed to better prepare students for success after high school, whether that means attending a postsecondary institution, entering the work force, or some combination of both. But there is little understanding about how these standards have been implemented across the country or the full impact they are having on student outcomes.  

To fill that void, the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) funded a new five-year research center, the Center on Standards, Alignment, Instruction, and Learning (C-SAIL). The center is studying the implementation of college- and career-ready standards and assessing how the standards are related to student outcomes. The center is also developing and testing an intervention that supports standards-aligned instruction.

Andy Porter, of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, is the director of C-SAIL and recently spoke with James Benson, the IES project officer for the center. Here is an edited version of that conversation.

“With so many states implementing new standards, researchers have an unprecedented opportunity to learn about how standards-based reform is best done.”

You have been studying education standards for over 30 years. What motivated you to assemble a team of researchers and state partners to college- and career-readiness standards?

Standards-based reform is in a new and promising place with standards that might be rigorous enough to close achievement gaps that advocates have been fighting to narrow for the last 30 years. And with so many states implementing new standards, researchers have an unprecedented opportunity to learn about how standards-based reform is best done. We hypothesize that the only modest effects of standards-based reform thus far are largely due to the fact that those reforms stalled at the classroom door, so a focus of the Center will be how implementation is achieved and supported among teachers.

What are the main projects within the Center, and what are a few of the key questions that they are currently addressing?

We have four main projects. The first, an implementation study, asks, “How are state, district, and school-level educators making sense of the new standards, and what kinds of guidance and support is available to them?” We’re comparing and contrasting implementation approaches in four states—Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio and Texas. In addition to reviewing state policy documents, we’re surveying approximately 280 district administrators, 1,120 principals, and 6,720 teachers across (the same) four states, giving special attention to the experiences of English language learners and students with disabilities.

The second project is a longitudinal study that asks, “How are college- and career-readiness standards impacting student outcomes across all 50 states?” and “How are English language learners and students with disabilities affected by the new standards?” We’re analyzing data from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and other sources to estimate the effects of college- and career-readiness standards on student achievement, high school completion, and college enrollment. Specifically, we’re examining whether implementing challenging state academic standards led to larger improvements in student outcomes in states with lower prior standards than in states with higher prior standards.

The third project is the Feedback on Alignment and Support for Teachers (FAST) intervention study, in which we are building an original intervention designed to assist teachers in providing instruction aligned to their state’s standards. FAST features real-time, online, personalized feedback for teachers, an off-site coach to assist teachers in understanding and applying aligned materials, and school-level collaborative academic study teams in each school.

The fourth project is a measurement study to determine the extent to which instruction aligns with college- and career-readiness standards. C-SAIL is developing new tools to assess alignment between teachers' instruction and state standards in English language arts and math.

How do you envision working with your partner states in the next few years? How do you plan to communicate with states beyond those partnering with the Center?

We’ve already collaborated with our partner states–Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Texas–on our research agenda, and the chief state school officer from each state, plus a designee of their choice, sits on our advisory board. Additionally, we’re currently working with our partner states on our implementation study and plan to make our first findings this summer on effective implementation strategies immediately available to them.

All states, however, will be able to follow our research progress and access our findings in myriad ways, including through our website. Our Fact Center features downloadable information sheets and the C-SAIL blog offers insights from our researchers and network of experts. We also invite practitioners, policymakers, parents and teachers to stay up-to-date on C-SAIL activities by subscribing to our newsletter, following us on Twitter, or liking us on Facebook.

Looking five years into the future, when the Center is finishing its work, what do you hope to understand about college- and career-readiness standards that we do not know now?

Through our implementation study, we will have documented how states are implementing new, college- and career-readiness standards; how the standards affect teacher instruction; what supports are most valuable for states, districts, and schools; and, how the new standards impact English language learners and students with disabilities.

Through our longitudinal study, we will have combined 50-state NAEP data with high school graduation rates, and college enrollment in order to understand how new standards impact student learning and college- and career-readiness.

Through our FAST Intervention, we will have created and made available new tools for teachers to monitor in real-time how well-aligned the content of their enacted curriculum is to their states’ college- and career-readiness standards in ELA and math.

Finally, but not least, we will have led policymakers, practitioners and researchers in a national discussion of our findings and their implications for realizing the full effects of standards-based reform. 

This post originally appeared on Inside IES Research.