This summer, we’re looking at best practices within each of our six policy recommendation areas. We’ve taken a look at the need to demand accountability at the state level; the need to foster leadership in our districts and schools; and ideas for developing an excellent teacher talent pool 

This week, let’s talk about raising expectations for our students.

Did you know that American students are substantially behind their international peers in academics? In 2006, American students taking the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams scored, on average, 489 in science and 474 in math-as compared to the international average of 530 in both subjects. This means that the United States is more than one grade level behind in both subjects. We need to expect more of our students if they are to compete in a global economy.

The national movement to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is designed to raise expectations of our students by shifting the focus in the classroom from quantity to quality. They demand that our students master rigorous content and help to ensure that students from across America are being taught to the same high levels. In 2010, Connecticut became one of 45 states to adopt CCSS, and we’re getting ready to roll it out over the next two years.  As we prepare to do so, it’s important to learn from our neighbors who are undergoing similar challenges.

Earlier this week, the New York Education Department became one of the first states to release reading and math scores for exams that are aligned with CCSS. As predicted, New York’s scores on this new form of testing were significantly lower than last year’s scores on the old standardized tests. Less than one in three students in grades 3-8 reached proficient standards in English Language Arts; the same is true for math. That is half as many students as were deemed proficient on last year‘s test.

Many reacted negatively, interpreting these results to mean that the adoption of the CCSS has resulted in a decline in performance.

But comparing the two versions of standardized testing is comparing apples to oranges.

In the past, states have falsely inflated their academic performance scores by setting unacceptably low standards. The lower the bar, the better the scores looked.  CCSS is helping to correct this issue by raising expectations for all students. When the bar is raised, scores will look worse, even when students are performing at the same level.

It is not that students know less; it is that we are expecting them to know more.

Scores from the new Common Core-based tests paint a more accurate picture of students’ academic success and emphasizes how far we need to go to ensure that every student is getting the education that he or she deserves.

The scores have been discouraging to some parents and educators, but in the long run, the new tests will help students to succeed in school and in life.  In a press statement, New York Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. reflected that New York “students face very real challenges. But it’s better to have our students challenged now–when teachers and parents are there to help–than frustrated later when they start college or try to find a job and discover they are unprepared.”

Here in Connecticut, we should keep this in mind as we prepare to hold our students to the same high standards by fully rolling out new Common Core-based assessments during the 2014-2015 school year.