The Common Core State Standards, adopted by 43 states and Washington, D.C., can be traced to the landmark 1983 report “A Nation at Risk,” which found U.S. students’ skill levels were not keeping pace with the demands of employers or their international peers.

The report’s findings spurred the subsequent education reform movement, including efforts to write curriculum standards.

In 2009, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers began developing new academic standards in English language arts and math.

With significant funding from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, states were invited to help create the standards and most eventually adopted the final products in 2010.

The standards are meant to provide benchmarks for students to compete globally.

In Wisconsin, their development coincided with a state effort to replace the state standards adopted in 1998, which were universally considered too vague, and did not describe what students should be able to do and know by the end of each grade.

Emilie Amundson, the Department of Public Instruction’s Common Core director, said even those who oppose Common Core seemingly agree that Common Core is an improvement upon Wisconsin’s previous standards.

States that have adopted the Common Core standards will begin in the spring using standardized, Web-based tests that are linked to Common Core.

Most states, including Wisconsin, are using tests called Smarter Balanced, while 10 states are using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test.

Wisconsin will still be giving students the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam in other subjects like science and social studies until new standards and tests are created, according to DPI.

Initially, nearly all states adopted the Common Core standards — most in 2010, when the U.S. Department of Education offered millions in Race to the Top funding as an incentive to adopt them. The federal funding has largely served as the basis for opposition to the standards on grounds that states were pressured to adopt them, are federally mandated or tantamount to a nationalized curriculum.

Three states have abandoned Common Core since then: Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Missouri, North Carolina and Tennessee have begun the process of reviewing and revising the standards.


Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.