Common Core Math Standards Implementation Can Lead to Improved Student Achievement

Saturday, May 5, 2012Printer-friendly version


Research demonstrates the importance of high-quality standards and implementation

Washington, D.C. – Dr. William Schmidt today released key conclusions from his research detailing how the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for mathematics can potentially improve the performance of U.S. students if implemented appropriately. In an event co-sponsored by Achieve, Chiefs for Change and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Dr. Schmidt presented a briefing on his work: Common Core State Standards Math: The Relationship Between High Standards, Systemic Implementation and Student Achievement.

Schmidt explained during the event that the CCSS for mathematics strongly resemble the standards of the highest-achieving nations, and that they have more focus, coherence and rigor than most of the state standards they replaced. He also found states with standards most like the CCSS for mathematics have higher scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), demonstrating that standards – and implementing them well – matter.

"What is clear in the research is that the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics are an important improvement over the state standards that they replaced and that to see their full potential realized, they must be implemented well," said Schmidt. "Their consistency with the international benchmark set by top-achieving countries shows that the CCSS are coherent, focused and rigorous, key attributes of math standards from countries that outperform the U.S. on international assessments."

Schmidt used existing research on international mathematics standards that identified the key characteristics possessed by the world's top performing "A+" countries. Research on the standards of the "A+" countries, whose eighth graders performed at the top of the international distribution, indicated three key features of strong mathematics standards: focus, coherence, and rigor. A statistical analysis of the CCSS for mathematics found a 90% overlap between the CCSS and the "A+" standards.

Furthermore, Schmidt's research reviewed all 50 states' previous math standards and compared them to the focus and coherence found in the CCSS for mathematics. The statistical comparison reveals that most state standards were less coherent or less focused than the CCSS, and in some cases, much less so. On average, states required 3-6 additional mathematics topics in earlier grades over that suggested by the CCSS for mathematics, leading to the often referred to "mile wide, inch deep" character of mathematics education prior to 2009.

"Because the Common Core State Standards demand such a fundamental shift in classroom instruction, if implemented well, they will increase student achievement and close achievement gaps," said Michael Cohen, President of Achieve. "We must now focus on supporting our teachers and the education community as they work toward full implementation across all grades."

Unlike previous research, Schmidt analyzed the link between states with standards that were similar to the CCSS and their NAEP math scores. He used cut scores aligned to NAEP as a proxy to determine if states were serious about high expectations and implementation of standards. The preliminary results showed states with standards in line with CCSS combined with higher cut scores also had higher NAEP scores.

The briefing challenges the education community to systemically implement the CCSS and demonstrate a clear commitment that all children will have the opportunity to learn challenging mathematics content. If these conditions are met, the data suggest that the Common Core State Standards for mathematics can potentially improve student achievement.

Dr. Schmidt's PowerPoint can be viewed at

Watch a video of the event.

Media Contact:
Chad Colby (202) 419-1570,


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William Schmidt is a Michigan State University Distinguished Professor and co-director of the Education Policy Center. He holds faculty appointments in Statistics and Education. His current writing and research concerns issues of academic content in K-12 schooling, teacher preparation and the effects of curriculum on academic achievement. He is also concerned with educational policy related to mathematics, science and testing in general. He is a member of the National Academy of Education and a fellow of the American Educational Research Association (AERA).

Chiefs for Change is a coalition of state school chiefs and leaders that share a zeal for education reform. Together, they provide a strong voice for bold reform on the federal, state and local level. They are committed to putting children first through bold, visionary education reform that will increase student achievement and prepare students for success in colleges and careers.

Created in 1996 by the nation's governors and corporate leaders, Achieve is an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit education reform organization based in Washington D.C. that helps states raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability. Achieve is leading the effort to make college and career readiness a national priority so that the transition from high school graduation to postsecondary education and careers is seamless. In 2005 Achieve launched the American Diploma Project Network. Starting with 13 original states, the Network has now grown to include 35 states educating nearly 85 percent of all U.S. public school students. Through the ADP Network, governors, state education officials, postsecondary leaders and business executives work together to improve postsecondary preparation by aligning key policies with the demands of college and careers. Achieve partnered with NGA and CCSSO on the Common Core State Standards Initiative and a number of its staff served on writing and review teams. More recently, Achieve was selected to manage the PARCC assessment consortia. The 25-state PARCC consortia were awarded Race to the Top assessment funds to create next generation assessments in math and English aligned to the CCSS. For more information about the work of Achieve, visit