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What Are the Standards, Anyways? Part 2

by Kathleen Dean

In the first article to this series, I discussed of some of the federal policies surrounding the standards. Yet despite the presence of these federal policies, one of the most striking facets of the United States’ current educational policy is that each state is responsible for setting its own standards for content areas. Consequently, students in bordering states may graduate with different skills and content knowledge. This situation has multiple effects, particularly in learning areas where national testing data has little relevance, and it may place some at a potential advantage over others. With these thoughts in mind, I come to you with news of an educational movement, the Common Core State Standards, conceived to address the inconsistency in state standards.

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a state led-initiative, and the mission statement identifies three goals: to eliminate any unfair content advantages between states; to clarify expectations for student learning; and to provide students with real world skills that will enable them to work in the global economy of the 21st century. Because the CCSS are not a federal initiative, states are not required to accept these standards. Currently, forty-eight of the states have adopted the standards, though that does not necessarily mean that they have implemented them. Furthermore, when a state adopts the CCSS, it does not necessarily copy each standard word-by-word, but their standards must be at least as rigorous as the CCSS. They also may add up to 15% of additional content to the CCSS standards that they have adopted.

As of April 2012, only CCSS for English Language Reading Arts and Mathematics have been published, covering learning expectations for K-12 students. I know what you are thinking, “What about the arts?” The CCSS website stresses that other subject areas are “…critical to young people’s education and their success in college and careers” (CCSS website). While the initial CCSS group created the English and Math CCSS standards – and are focused solely on promoting and implementing just those – another group is creating CCSS for the arts.

National Coalition for Core Arts Standards

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) has assumed responsibility for writing CCSS for the arts. This group consists of teachers, artists, and professional education groups from across the country. The NCCAS is developing standards for K-12, and is also writing standards for the collegiate level.  These arts standards will be developed by using the same principles as the English and Math standards: a focus on content and the development of real-world skills. In addition to dance, music, theatre and visual arts standards that are in place in the current state standards, the NCCAS will be creating standards for a new category that reflects an area of increasing social and academic importance: media arts.

It is still too early to be able to tell what effects that the CCSS and the efforts of the NCCAS will have. However, I am encouraged by the by the process that the NCCAS has gone through so far. They have taken pains to create writing teams from across the nation that will provide a variety of skills and background to the process of writing the standards. Additionally, the NCCAS has taken pains to consider how the standards will evolve and change over as students progress through the grade levels, and even into college (if they choose to pursue the arts at a collegiate level). Finally, I think that the NCCAS’ attention to current ‘hot topics’ and trends will serve them well as they continue the standards writing process. The inclusion of media arts in the arts standards will be a great way to engage students in an area of increasing societal importance.

All of this discussion about the standards, and the CCSS brings me to my over-arching intent in writing these articles: why the arts are still considered to be separate from the other core academic courses.

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For more information about the CCSS and NCCAS, check out the following websites:

15% Rule

Common Core State Standards

National Coalition for Core Arts Standards

To brush up on Part 1:

What are the Standards, Anyway?

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