The state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education will recommend that Massachusetts replace its highly regarded academic standards for English and math with a uniform set of national standards that could ultimately lead to replacing the MCAS exams in those subjects.
The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which must approve any changes, is scheduled to vote on the proposal next week.
In a memorandum to board members today, Commissioner Mitchell Chester said independent panels he appointed had compared the proposed “Common Core Standards” against the state’s existing standards. Those analyses essentially revealed that the national standards in most cases were just as good as the state standards, he said.
In some cases, where the national standards were inferior to Massachusetts', Chester said the state will take advantage of an option by the Obama administration to bolster the standards. The Obama administration has said state's can change as much as 15 percent of the national standards to suit the specific academics needs of their regions.
“My conclusion is that the advantages of adopting the Common Core Standards outweigh the disadvantages,” Chester wrote. “First and foremost, because Massachusetts’s standards and assessments enjoy an outstanding reputation nationally, the input of our content experts was largely reflected in the Common Core Standards.”
In an interview, Chester emphasized that adopting the national standards would not be a step backward, as some critics of the effort have suggested.
"These standards will not dillute the expectation of our students," he said. "If I was not confident about the benefits, I would not make this recommendation."
The possible switch to a new set of standards has been highly controversial in Massachusetts, where the state’s overhaul of education over the last decade has propelled students to the top in national and international tests. The Pioneer Institute, a conservative leaning research organization, for instance, has conducted several analyses that have found the national standards to be subpar to the state standards.
The issue has been equally controversial in other states, such as California and Virginia, known to have high academic standards.
Adopting the new standards would not bring immediate changes to teaching in the state’s classrooms. Districts will have until the end of the 2011-12 school year to ensure their classroom lessons align with the new standards.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts is working with a consortium of about two dozen states to create a new standardized test based on the national standards that could eventually replace the English and Math MCAS. The exams will take several years to develop, and the consortium will examine the feasibility of replacing test booklets with computer exam.
The state board would also have to approve any testing changes.
The Massachusetts board is scheduled to vote on the national standards at a special meeting on Wednesday at department headquarters in Malden.
"Adoption of the Common Core Standards portends a number of benefits," Chester wrote. "One benefit is the potential for providing clearer signals to K-12 students about their readiness for success at the next level, including readiness for college or career."
On the beat
Columnist Adrian Walker says UMass Dartmouth is shaken after revelations that one of the Marathon bomb suspects was a student there. Read more