Achieve did not set out to develop common standards, Gandal explained, although the organization was founded as a way for states to compare notes and benchmark their efforts as they pursued standards-based reform. As part of that work, Achieve has provided evaluations of states’ standards and assessments, comparing them in terms of their rigor and other characteristics. Achieve collaborated with the Fordham Foundation, the Education Trust, and the National Alliance of Business to launch the American Diploma Project (ADP), which initially focused on defining the core skills young people need to succeed in college and the workplace. Ultimately, the group developed specific benchmarks in English and mathematics as a more concrete guide to the states that joined the ADP network. That network, which now includes 32 states, asks each member state to sign on to a program of aligning standards, assessments, graduation requirements, and data and accountability systems at the K-12 level with postsecondary and workplace expectations, as exemplified in the ADP benchmarks.
Achieve has worked with 20 of the participating states to update their standards and align them with the ADP benchmarks and with the expectations of the postsecondary institutions and employers in the states. They have found that a common core of knowledge and skills is increasingly shared across these states. Individual states may vary in the ways they present their standards, in the weight they attach to different elements, and in other ways, but the core has become increasingly easy to see, Gandal explained.
Recognizing the critical role played by assessments, Achieve has also worked with 13 states to oversee the development of an algebra II assessment designed to be used at the end of the course. The participating states recognized that they were emphasizing the same material and that it would be logical to work together to develop a high-quality test. Interestingly, Gandal noted, ironing out the procurement procedures across the states so that they could join forces in hiring a testing contractor was in some ways more challenging than hammering out the content and performance expectations.
For Gandal, the experience has been a heartening proof of what is possible: “If states, working collaboratively, can agree on common standards and develop assessments in common, they could actually accomplish some of what you have been talking about in this room, which is ultimately coming up with a common expectation and measuring it.”