LINCOLN — There's little difference between Nebraska's English language standards and those in the Common Core, a study released Thursday found.
The study paid for by the Nebraska Department of Education found that Nebraska's standards are more rigorous in some cases.
The long-awaited study by Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning will be welcomed by opponents of the Common Core, who have urged state officials to remain committed to Nebraska's homegrown standards.
Both sets describe the skills and concepts kids should know and learn in kindergarten through high school in reading, writing and oral communication.
The differences identified by McREL were typically a matter of organization, specificity or the emphasis on certain genres of writing.
“I think we can be proud of the standards we have,” said Donlynn Rice, administrator of curriculum and instruction for the Nebraska Department of Education.
“We are strongly aligned to the Common Core. The differences are not major.”
Rice said the study results could ease concerns of Nebraska teachers that recently published instructional materials designed to teach the Common Core would not be of use in their classrooms.
The more than 400-page study found the two sets of standards had “nearly equal rigor,” according to Tricia Parker, director of language arts education for the department.
“When you look at theirs measured up against ours, we actually had more rigor,” she said.
Rigor was reflected two ways: either mastery of content was expected at an earlier grade or the content was significantly more challenging, or both.
Overall, only 3 percent of the standards in the Common Core were not addressed by the Nebraska standards.
“I think that's a really terrific number,” Parker said to state board members Thursday. “We really are very proud of the fact this measured up in this way.”
Meantime, 10 percent of Nebraska standards were not addressed by the Common Core.
The largest differences were Nebraska's emphasis on specific reading strategies, handwriting skills and digital communication, Parker said. Although digital communication is woven into the Common Core standards, Nebraska's standards address that topic directly, she said.
Most of the variation between the standards came in the elementary grades. But by the high school years, the standards were nearly identical in their demands of students, she said.
Parker said Nebraska's standards in some cases contain less detail than the Common Core because Nebraska's leaves the job of writing curriculum to local districts.
Rice said the study results will help guide the Nebraska Board of Education and department personnel as they embark on a periodic standards update this year. The Nebraska language arts standards were approved in 2009.
She said that, as part of the rewrite, state officials will compare the standards to those on which the ACT, SAT and National Assessment of Educational Progress are based. Officials also plan to ask educators from Nebraska colleges and universities to look at the Nebraska standards.
Although the Obama administration has tied adoption of Common Core to eligibility for federal grants and No Child Left Behind waivers, states can get around that requirement if their higher-education community affirms that the standards truly prepare students for colleges and careers.
Lillie Larsen of Lincoln, a member of the state board, said the study results were no surprise.
“But we clearly have some places where there's need for attention,” Larsen said.
Officials said they will be looking, for example, at how the Common Core emphasizes the importance of research and argument.
Nebraska law requires districts to adopt state standards, but districts can adopt their own standards if those are at least as rigorous as the state's.
McREL is also comparing Nebraska's math standards with the Common Core. Results will be released in September.
Officials say the results of that study could show a lesser degree of alignment. That's because the Common Core math standards call for a different sequencing of math concepts and also because those standards put special emphasis on science and math concepts for students heading into those careers.
The study results come as a national backlash against Common Core has grown intense, and a few states are reconsidering their participation. A few have decided not to use new assessments developed with federal money to assess student achievement under the Common Core.
The Common Core standards were based on a set of educational benchmarks developed by Achieve, a nonprofit group founded in 1996 by governors and business leaders. Achieve partnered with the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers and consultants to write the standards, which were released in June 2010.
Advocates say the standards are better aligned with college and work expectations and reflect what top-performing countries do. They are based on evidence and research, and they demand higher-order thinking from students, the advocates say.
Critics have said they are untested and represent a federal power grab.