On June 22, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) decided to adopt the “Common Core State Standards” as Illinois’ new learning standards for K-12 students.

“These new standards are fewer, clearer and higher than the previous standards, which were adopted in 1997, and will better prepare Illinois students for success in college and careers,” said State Superintendent Christopher A. Koch, Ed.D., in his weekly message. “The new standards are specific to each grade, unlike the previous standards which banded grades together,” he added.

In June 2009, Illinois joined 48 other states and territories to develop common learning standards as part of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. In preparing these standards – which lay out year-by-year what children should learn in math and English-language arts – educators first developed college and career-readiness standards that define the skills students need to succeed in “college entry courses and in workforce training programs.”  They then worked back from the college and career-readiness standards to develop the K-12 standards.

“The grade-by-grade standards in K-5 English-language arts establish student expectations in reading, writing, speaking, listening and language across different subjects at each grade level,” said Dr. Koch. “The standards for the individual grade levels in 6-12 establish English-language arts standards as well as a section in history, social studies and science. The math standards focus on practices that all levels of students need to develop.”

Dr. Koch said, “This summer we will convene a team of teachers to complete a crosswalk, examining the old and new standards, finding the commonalities and identifying the differences. We have long known our current standards were too broad and not always measurable.”

In its second-round application for Race to the Top funds filed with U.S. Department of Education on May 25, the State of Illinois says, “participating” school districts will begin a process during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years to align their curricula to the Common Core standards. During the next two years, participating districts will also implement “interim and formative assessments that measure student progress against Common Core expectations,” says the application.

Participating school districts are those that signed a memorandum of understanding with ISBE and agreed to implement certain school reform measures. Both School Districts 65 and 202 signed a memorandum or understanding, which becomes void if the State does not receive Race to the Top funds.

The State’s Race to the Top application also says that a recent study by the ACT concluded that the ACT’s College Readiness Benchmarks match well with the Common Core standards for college and career readiness in multiple subject areas. The State says it will use the college readiness benchmarks for EXPLORE (given to eighth-graders) and ACT (given to eleventh- and twelfth-graders) as primary indicators of whether students are on track for college and careers.

Illinois has joined with a consortium of states to jointly develop and implement common assessments aligned with the Common Core standards. It may take until 2014 to start using the new assessments.