ThinkstockPhotos-487552587By Dylan Wiliam, Ph.D.

In May 2010, the members of the Common Core State Standards Validation Committee were asked to make a straight up-or-down decision about whether the Common Core State Standards met with their approval.

Twenty members voted to approve the standards. One of the original 25 members had withdrawn from the committee a while earlier, and I was one of four members who decided not to approve the standards.

As a result, some people have assumed that I oppose the Common Core State Standards. This is quite untrue. I believe that the current Common Core State Standards are coherent, pitched at an appropriate level to ensure students are college- and career-ready, and provide the best possible basis for moving forward.

The reason I refused to validate the standards is because of what, exactly, members of the Validation Committee were being asked to certify. Specifically members of the Validation Committee were told that validating the standards would mean the standards were:

1)      Reflective of the core knowledge and skills in ELA and mathematics that students need to be college- and career-ready

2)      Appropriate in terms of their level of clarity and specificity

3)      Comparable to the expectations of other leading nations

4)      Informed by available research or evidence

5)      The result of processes that reflect best practices for standards development

6)      A solid starting point for adoption of cross state common core standards

7)      A sound basis for eventual development of standards-based assessments

I was happy to endorse statements 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7. I had some concerns about statement 2, because most other leading countries have a smaller number of standards, expressed at a greater level of generality, so teachers have to “flesh out” the standards within their own local context. However, while the Common Core State Standards are specified in more detail than is the case in other countries, I was content that the greater detail would be helpful for U.S. teachers.

My main reservation was with statement 3. I was convinced that the standards were reflective of what students needed to know to be college- and career-ready, but in many leading nations, upper secondary school studies in mathematics are focused on the needs of those who will take mathematics-intensive majors at universities. In these countries, the standards are much more demanding than the Common Core State Standards because they have a far lower proportion of the population studying mathematics in upper secondary school.

So, while I was unable to agree to statement 3, this was because of the specific wording of the statements to which we were being asked to agree.

To make it absolutely clear, I should make it clear that I believe:

a)      The Common Core State Standards are more demanding than the standards required for college- and career-readiness in the vast majority of leading nations; and

b)      The standards, while specified in greater detail than is customary in other countries, are appropriate given the current subject knowledge of teachers in the United States.

In short, I support the current version of the standards in the strongest possible terms, and without reservation.