HELENA – While Montana’s new Common Core standards for public schools are being attacked by some as a nationalized education agenda driven by the Obama administration, school officials here say Montana adopted the standards on its own terms.
Common Core standards, adopted by Montana in 2011 for math and reading, do have a national angle, as they were developed by two national groups with an eye toward creating more rigorous and uniform education standards across the country.
Adoption of the standards also has been encouraged by the Obama administration, which said in 2009 that if states wanted certain federal education grants, or a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements, they had to adopt Common Core or similar standards that “prepare students for success in college and the workplace.”
However, Montana has not requested such a waiver or received any of the grants, officials said.
The state Board of Public Education adopted the standards after lengthy public hearings and discussions with schools, teachers and business leaders, said Denise Juneau, state superintendent of public instruction.
“This really is a state-led initiative,” Juneau said. “It’s not a federal intrusion.”
The push for tougher public school standards began a half-dozen years ago, as business leaders and colleges said too many U.S. students were coming out of high school without the skills needed to succeed at higher education or in the workforce.
In 2009, the National Governors Association hired contractors to write new curriculum standards in math and language arts. The Council of Chief State School Officers – a group representing state superintendents of schools – also got involved, and the two groups have actually copyrighted the standards, releasing them in June 2010.
They’ve said they wanted to create “clear, consistent” goals for students nationwide.
Private organizations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation also have supported adoption of the standards.
Juneau and other educators say while Montana adopted the standards, it tailored them to fit unique aspects of Montana education, such as fulfilling the state’s constitutionally mandated program to teach Native American culture.
School districts also still design their own curriculum to enable students to meet the standards.
Common Core standards will mean new testing for students, to see if they’re meeting the standards’ goals.
Some districts already have experimented with the online testing, which is being designed by two consortia of states and should be in place by the end of the 2014-2015 school year.
Montana is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment coalition, which includes about half the states. The tests will evaluate students in grades three through eight each year, and 11th grade for math and language arts.
Juneau said Montana is a “governing state” in the consortium and will have a say on development of the tests, which will replace the less frequent tests used to measure Montana’s compliance with NCLB, the federal education law.
Montana has not been complying with NCLB, which is six years overdue for reauthorization by Congress.
Juneau said testing under Common Core standards will create a new, state-based benchmark of information on how students are doing, which can then be used to evaluate schools.
“We’ll be moving to a new, state accountability system, where we don’t rely on the bar set by the feds,” she said.