Despite the fierce political battles waged in Indiana over the use — and ultimate rejection — of the Common Core State Standards, some educators are quick to point out that what Indiana ended up with isn’t all that different.
But in a review from a conservative think tank that has backed the Common Core standards, that appears to be what makes Indiana’s current standards so good.
The Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, based in Washington D.C., gave Indiana’s academic standards — expectations for what students should know when they leave high school — a high rating compared to other states in a review of state standards in the post-Common Core era. The report, released today, evaluates states that have both made “substantive” changes to Common Core and states that never adopted them, as well as evaluating Common Core itself.
“No matter how good they are, every state’s academic standards need to be updated periodically,” the report said. “The overarching goal of this report is to provide helpful guidance to states as they look to modernize their standards in the years ahead.”
While Indiana is recognized as a state having made substantive changes, its new standards remain very similar to Common Core, with changes made mostly in math to how standards are organized, when certain standards are taught, and how some are worded.
Out of 10 possible points that considered content and rigor, and clarity and specificity of standards, Indiana’s English standards earned an 8, according to the report — beat only by Common Core, which got 9. In math, Indiana was outscored by Texas and Common Core, but still earned 7 points, tied with Tennessee and Virginia. Both scores were considered “good” on Fordham’s scale, one level below the highest rating, “strong.” Indiana was the only state to get such scores for both sets of standards. No standards received a perfect score.
Reviewers said Indiana’s English standards were “admirably thorough and well-written” and did a good job emphasizing the importance of foundational reading skills, but they lacked specific examples of literary texts or documents students should read.
The math standards are rigorous, focused, and coherent, reviewers said, but there are some “unfortunate exceptions” in grades 3 to 5 that de-emphasize long division and other math processes that are important to understand as students head into middle and high school.
The standards were reviewed by a group of 10 college professors, educators and researchers from institutions across the country. Some of them helped write the Common Core standards, and others have consulted on the affiliated tests.
The Common Core controversy had its heyday in the first half of the decade. Indiana was an early adopter, garnering the strong support of both then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and then-state Superintendent Tony Bennett. But that changed with the 2012 election, which ushered in new leadership. Quickly, any political capital Common Core won in Indiana ran out.
Supporters argued the standards would better prepare students for the rigors of college, but opponents viewed the Common Core standards as federal intrusion or developmentally inappropriate.
Gov. Mike Pence and state Superintendent Glenda Ritz found rare common ground in their contempt for the shared standards, which were developed by a group of state leaders and national policy organizations. By 2015, Indiana had dumped both Common Core and its associated tests, and was instead pursuing yet another attempt to rewrite standards. The new Indiana Academic Standards were introduced in schools that year.
You can find the rest of the report and its recommendations for state leaders here.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated where the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation is based.