College-and-Career Readiness: States Have Made Progress in Implementing New Standards and Assessments, but Challenges Remain

GAO-15-104R Published: Dec 12, 2014. Publicly Released: Dec 12, 2014.
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What GAO Found

States use similar strategies to implement new state academic standards, regardless of whether they adopted the Common Core State Standards (Common Core)--academic standards that were jointly developed by states in English and math and are explicitly tied to college- and career-preparation--or their own college- and career-ready standards. Specifically, states and districts provide professional development to educators to help them effectively implement new standards; develop curricula and acquire instructional materials aligned to new standards; and develop communication strategies to educate the public.

States have implemented assessments that are aligned to their new state standards over the past few years, as required, and have reported facing challenges such as technological concerns and concerns about declining assessment scores. States can fulfill federal assessment requirements with their own assessments, or with assessments developed by one of two state consortia. Education awarded grants through its Race to the Top Assessment Program (Assessment Program) to two consortia of states to develop assessments that measure student achievement against a common set of college- and career-ready standards. The consortia chose to develop computer-based assessments aligned to the Common Core and, although the time frames have been challenging, are on schedule to implement their assessments during the 2014-15 school year, as required by the Assessment Program. According to a variety of education stakeholders and state and district officials, however, some consortia states and districts may not have sufficient Internet capacity and devices to administer the assessments via computer when they first become operational. Similarly, officials from three non-consortia states we spoke with noted that ensuring that schools have sufficient Internet capacity and computing devices to administer computer-based statewide assessments takes time and can be challenging. Moreover, concerns exist in consortia and non-consortia states about declining test scores as students grapple with more challenging assessment content.

Education uses a peer review process in all states to oversee compliance with the requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, for standards and assessments. This includes assessing the reliability and validity of all statewide assessments. Education suspended and began revising this process in 2012 to permit states to focus on the design and implementation of new assessments. It will begin implementing the new process in late 2015. Education also regularly monitors consortia's progress with the Assessment Program grant requirements, including their progress in developing assessments. Assessment Program guidance states that assessments are expected to generate data that can be used, among other purposes, to measure the college- and career-readiness of high school students and inform teacher and principal evaluation systems. In their grant applications, the consortia were required to include research and evaluation plans and Education has monitored both consortia's development of these plans. The plans include research into uses of assessment scores. Education is also collecting data on the use of assessment scores in all states. GAO is not making recommendations.

Why GAO Did This Study

Many students in the United States are not adequately prepared for college and careers upon graduating high school. To address concerns about inadequately prepared students, all states are now using or developing academic standards for grades K through 12 in math and English that are explicitly tied to college and career preparation. As of the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, the majority of states were using the Common Core State Standards and the remaining states were developing or using their own college- and career-ready standards. Education has taken several steps to support states in their move toward more rigorous academic college- and career-ready standards and assessments, including awarding approximately $360 million through its Assessment Program. In light of the importance and widespread adoption of new state college- and career-ready standards and assessments, GAO was asked to obtain information on how states are implementing their standards and assessments. We focused on:

1. What is known about states' implementation of college- and career-ready standards?

2. What key considerations are states facing as they implement assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards?

3. How does Education plan to oversee statewide assessments, and how has it overseen the Assessment Program?

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