Learning about the standards writing process from NGA news releases. Take 2.

About a year ago I noticed there was a lot of misinformation being spread about the process for writing the standards, so I came up with the brilliant idea of pointing people to the historical source documents that chronicled the process: the NGA press releases about the Common Core during 2009–2010. That will solve the problem, I thought; people will just read the press releases and figure it out. Boy was I ever wrong. In this post I’ll try to give a clearer timeline of the process. Along the way I’ll point out the involvement of testing organizations, since I think that one of the reasons the misinformation has survived for so long is a narrative, compelling to some, that the testing industry dominated the process. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)

First, here is the list, with an additional one from July 2009 that I missed last time (which has been the source of much confusion):

Notice that there seem to be duplicate announcements of the Work and Feedback Group and duplicate releases of the standards. What’s going on here is that there were two documents. First, in summer of 2009, the people listed in the July 2009 release worked on the document that was announced in September of 2009. That document, which was actually entitled College and Career Readiness Standards for Mathematics, was confusingly referred to as Common Core State Standards in the title of the September 2009 press release. If you take a look at it you will see that it is a draft description of what students should know by the end of high school.

Subsequently, as described in the November 2009 press release, a new process with new groups was started, to produce “K–12 standards.” These were to be a set of grade level recommendations that described a pathway to college and career readiness. For the K–12 process, there were about 50 people on the Work Team and about 20 people on the Feedback Group for mathematics, representing a wide range of professions, including teachers, mathematicians, policy makers, and one representative each from College Board and ACT … none representing for-profit providers of assessments. The members of this group are listed in a linked pdf in the press release.  This is the document that was released for public comment in March 2010, as described in the March 2010 press release, and released in final form as the Common Core State Standards on 6 June 2010, as described in the final press release.

As you can see from the list of members, I chaired the Work Team for the second document. Within the work team there was a smaller writing team consisting of myself, Jason Zimba, and Phil Daro (who had all been involved in the summer 2009 document, Phil Daro as chair for mathematics). We based the standards on narrative progressions of particular mathematical topics across grade levels that were solicited from the Work Team. We circulated many drafts to the Work Team, the Feedback Group, the 48 participating states, various national organizations such as AFT and NCTM, and, in March 2010, the public (see the March 2010 release). I personally made sure that we responded to and made considered decisions about all of the voluminous feedback we received.

When you hear people claim that “the standards were written by the testing industry,” they are probably referring to the first document, because of the greater involvement of College Board and ACT. Both organizations, along with Achieve, which was also represented, had conducted research into the requirements of college and career readiness. (All are non-profits, by the way.) The problem is that some people refer to the first document in a way that suggests they are talking about the second document (i.e., the actual K-12 standards adopted by states). That is an error and a misleading one.

The two documents are different in nature, of course, since one of them is just a picture of an endpoint while the other is a progression. Feel free to compare them. One influence of the first document on the second is that in the first document you can see the first draft of what became the Standards for Mathematical Practice. And the topic areas listed in the first document evolved into the high school conceptual categories in the second. All this evolution happened under the processes for the second document, with input from the various groups described above.

I think the second document is the work of the 70-odd people listed as the Work Team and Feedback Group in the November 2009 press release. But, just for fun, I put the teams for the two documents together and counted how many of them came from ACT and College Board (no other testing organizations were represented). It comes to a total of 81 people with 7 from ACT and College Board, about 9%. So even with this interpretation the claim that the process was dominated by the testing industry is false.

About Bill McCallum

I was born in Australia and came to the United States to pursue a Ph. D. in mathematics at Harvard University, met my wife, and never went back. I am a professor at the University of Arizona, working in number theory and mathematics education.
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