What are academic standards?

Academic standards are shared goals for what students need to know and be able to do. Arizona has academic standards for all grades in every subject including science, English, math, social studies, the arts, and technology, for example.

Standards define what students learn and what they need to know by the end of each grade to be successful in the next. Teachers and parents can use standards to set shared goals for student learning and to track student progress. Example: Kindergarten students are expected to be able to count to 100 by ones and by tens by the end of the year.

Why does Arizona need more rigorous standards?

All Arizona students deserve a world-class education, but right now that’s not happening for all students. 23% of Arizona high school students do not graduate on time and of those who do, 53% do not qualify for admission into a state university. 59% of students enroll in remedial classes in community college. What’s more, 42% of employers surveyed report that their newly hired high school graduates are deficient in basic skills, including writing, math and reading. Now, Arizona jobs expect more, with the vast majority requiring some type of education or advanced job training after high school. This means that high school is no longer the finish line. All Arizona students must be prepared to pursue higher education or career training after high school.

Arizona’s previous standards were not serving our children well. We owe it to our children to raise the bar so they will be better prepared for college, career and life.

What are Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards?

Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards are a set of academic standards in math and English/Language Arts for grades K-12. The standards are different than previous standards Arizona has used in the past because their goal is to help all students have the knowledge and skills they need in English and math so that they will be prepared as they leave high school and enter the workforce or go on to college.

The Arizona State Board of Education adopted the standards voluntarily in 2010 and Arizona schools have been working to implement them since 2011. Click here to read the standards.

How were the standards developed?

Arizona worked with other state leaders to develop standards that would prepare kids for college and career. The standards were developed under the guidance of state governors and state school chiefs, who relied on teachers, content experts, and higher education faculty to help draft and review them, including educators and experts from Arizona. Dr. William McCallum, the University Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Head of the Department of Mathematics at the University of Arizona, was one of the lead writers of the math standards. In addition, Arizona convened state content teams that provided important feedback, which was incorporated into the final standards.

The draft standards were also available for extensive public comment before they were finalized and received hundreds of comments from Arizona teachers, parents, and many others. In 2010, the Arizona State Board of Education held multiple public meetings to discuss the standards (January 25, 2010; February 22, 2010; March 22, 2010; April 26, 2010; May 24, 2010; and June 8, 2010), made edits to them to meet Arizona’s needs, and then adopted the standards.

How are the new standards different from the old standards?

Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards are different because they:

  • Focus the goal on college and career readiness
  • Put more focus on critical thinking, problem solving, and effective communications skills
  • Lead to less teaching to the test
  • Encourage more analysis and deeper understanding of concepts

The standards have been well-received across the political spectrum as an improvement of the standards they replaced in Arizona. A study by the Fordham Institute confirmed this in a 2010 analysis of the old and new standards. 

What is the difference between standards and curriculum?

Standards are a set of goals that outline what students should be able to know and do in each grade. Whereas curriculum is how a child is taught, which includes teaching materials such as textbooks, reading lists, projects, or worksheets. Standards are adopted by the State Board of Education, whereas, curricula decisions are left to local governing boards and charter schools to select who know their students best.

If we have the same standards across the state, does that mean we will have the same curriculum and textbooks also?

No. Arizona schools have always shared the same set of academic standards, but have always had and will continue to have different curricula. School governing boards and charter schools will still decide what curriculum and textbooks they want to use in their classrooms. These materials are required to be adopted in public meetings after a significant public review process, which allows for community involvement and input on what is used in the classroom.

Were the standards mandated by the federal government?

No. The Arizona State Board of Education adopted the standards voluntarily in June 2010. The Board chose to adopt the standards in order to raise the bar for Arizona students and further ensure that they are better prepared for college and career.

As a state, Arizona was not mandated or coerced into adopting the standards by the federal government. To be clear: The US Department of Education has encouraged states to adopt standards that were college and career ready as a part of Race to the Top grant program and to receive an ESEA waiver. However, they did not require or mandate any specific set of standards to adopt, including the Arizona College and Career Ready Standards (Common Core). Funding and waiver decisions did not depend on the adoption of the standards.

What evidence do we have that new standards will improve student achievement?

The standards were created using best practices of what works in improving students’ college and career readiness from top performing states and countries. This will not only ensure that the best content is included in the standards, but also that our students will be better prepared to compete with their peers from across the country and around the world for the jobs of the future.

In addition to these best practices, the standards were also developed using evidence that includes scholarly research; surveys on what skills are required of students entering college and workforce training programs; and assessment data identifying college and career-ready performance.