Commentary: How Well Were Students Served When Each State Developed Its Own Standards and Tests?

The Common Core State Standards, adopted by most U.S. states, are supposed to ensure that the nation’s high school graduates are college and career ready, and able to compete in an increasingly global economy. Opponents contend that the standards are an unnecessary intrusion on local control of public schools. The dispute begs the question: How well were students served when each state developed its own standards and tests? Insights come from Maryland, considered by some to have the best public schools in the nation.

Before a new curriculum based on the Common Core was implemented across Maryland this school year, each state set its own standards, and developed its own related tests under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Results on the Maryland tests improved over the years such that, by 2013, nearly 90% of the state’s fourth graders scored at proficient or advanced levels in math and reading. In eighth grade, proficiency rates were not as high, but still hit nearly 70% in math and about 80% in reading. In high school, nearly 85% were at or above proficient on the Algebra exam; in English, the figure was 83%. The bottom line: Both the upward trend and the most recent results looked impressive, so where was the problem?

First, while most students were deemed successful by the state’s standards, they were not ready for college level work after graduating from high school. The problem is not unique to Maryland, but the most recent available data compiled in the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) 2014 Data Book show that overall, a majority of Maryland high school graduates who were enrolled in a Maryland public college for the 2010-11 school year had to take remedial coursework before taking credit-bearing college courses. The remediation rate for community college enrollees was over 70%.

Including data on Maryland high school graduates who attended private colleges or out-of-state schools, while not reported by MHEC, might have reduced remediation rates for Maryland overall. However, the fact remains that in a single year, 17,000 of the state’s public high school graduates were, according to Maryland public colleges, unprepared for the work.

Another red flag comes from student performance on the assessment known as “The Nation’s Report Card”. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) provides what it calls “a common yardstick” as the largest nationally representative and ongoing assessment of what U.S. students know and can do in tested subjects. The exams in reading and math are given to a representative sample of fourth and eighth graders in each state every two years.

In recent years, Maryland’s results* have mainly beaten the national averages, and they showed notable progress over the last decade, rising, for example, to a high of 48% scoring at or above proficient in fourth grade math. Perhaps additional gains would have been realized on the NAEP without any change in Maryland standards, and a majority of students tested would someday reach proficiency.

However, as of 2013, the majority of Maryland fourth and eighth graders tested remained below proficient in both math and reading. In the case of eighth grade math, the percent from Maryland who scored below proficient stood at 63%.

Direct comparisons between results on the NAEP and Maryland assessments are problematic. In addition to the differences already noted, proficiency levels are uniquely and subjectively defined for each test, and the Maryland standards were aligned with the Maryland exams, and not with NAEP. Still, the gap in 2013 between the percentages of Maryland students scoring below proficient on the state versus the national tests is striking.

2013 Test Result Comparison: Maryland State Assessment vs Maryland Performance on National Assessment of Educational Progress

Data sources:,, compiled by The Dagger

Contention over the Common Core shows no signs of easing, which isn’t surprising given the upheaval and the cost of revamping educational standards, plus teacher evaluations and student data collection in 44 states. More importantly, no one knows whether this massive effort will succeed or fail. But it’s difficult to argue that there was no room for improvement under the status quo.

*Maryland reportedly excluded a large number of special education students from its sample on the NAEP reading test, which may have inflated results. To read more, go here.


  1. jj johnson says

    A few comments regarding some of the comparative data. It is widely known that the number and percentage of HS students entering some type of college is higher than decades past. There is much discussion if all of these students should really be in a “traditional” college environment vs. vocational training (machinists, plumbing, electrical, computer tech, etc.). Could this be a major cause of the high number of students requiring remedial classes upon entering college?
    Since all colleges are run by money (and what isn’t) could the remedial courses be an additional money maker? Could colleges be accepting students they would have rejected in the past because it’s another paying warm body? How many of these students requiring remedial courses are receiving educational assistance other than loans or work study?
    And we know that the colleges are always looking at graduation rate, fallout rates, and other statistics but all statistics can be manipulated to show what the presenter wants you to see. And that is not including fraud in numbers used for statistics as has happened multiple times over the past fews years at small, large, local, and national colleges that were always just “errors”. Should we be just running things like education “by the numbers”? Are the numbers we are looking at meaningful and free from manipulations? Should these metrics be universal and applied at a national level? Do all parts of the country have the same needs? Is the testing an accurate measurement of proficiency? The SATs have been targeted for decades. AP testing and NCLB type testing has been questioned. Testing that focuses on processes rather than the result is confusing and non-beneficial in most cases. Yet, that seems to be the Comon Core pathway. Are we dumbing down the entire system?

    • Where is the Squirrel says

      You’re presenting some grand conspiracy that colleges are out to get money and so they are forcing kids into remedial algebra classes. If there was a grand conspiracy for money, they would be trying to get more students from out of state so that they didn’t have to tap into state funding as much and would therefore have more budget relief, but instead, they’re actually trying to get more kids classified as in-state, as the effort to do the Maryland Dream Act was backed by the University System.

      And it’s quite difficult to fudge a drop out rate at a University, did a student that enrolled graduate. Are you suggesting that they are reclassifying students that drop out as undocumented students. This isn’t Baltimore City where they reclassified rapes as sexual harassment cases.

      You can try to bury the ideas presented by Cindy with a thousand unanswerable questions, but rather than throwing out questions for others to answer like a common lawyer, actually present an argument on the other side. Show us that we need to stop trying to send every kid to college because we want our children to make more money (and statistics that you will argue are fudged show that on average people who go to college make more money). Good parents will always want what is best for their children and society has used that one statistic to say college is best for everyone. And that is obviously not true, but what parent is going to say their son is a big dummy and won’t do good at school so they shouldn’t try to succeed there. And yes, your son that becomes a plumber will do much better financially than my daughter who will get her liberal arts degree and go be a secretary at a spice company. But as a parent, I’m going to stick to the average statistic that shows a college degree will lead to making 64% more than a high school graduate and push my dumb daughter into a college that she doesn’t want to go to because she’d rather be partying with her friends.

  2. says

    Cindy-that’s a lot of research. As a legislator, I pride my self on the ratings that the school systems of Maryland have attained. Ours are some of the best schools in the country. And the schools in North Eastern Maryland (Harford & Cecil) are some of the best in the state. That says a lot about LOCAL schools. We do not need the Federal Government trying to nationalize the education of our children. If Common Core requires a “common” education, what is more likely to happen: The students in the Detroit School System will magically come up to our standards, or is it more likely our kids will not be expected to perform as well to be in “common” with the Michigan kids? I think it will be a disservice to our children to be taught in common with students in failing systems. IMHO.

    • OpenMind says

      Now why do you have to throw Detroit into this? Do you even have a clue as to what is really going on up there? Have mercy. And how are you going to lump an entire state’s group of kids together into “Michigan kids.” I’m sure there are some kids in Michigan who could outperform you on many levels starting with compassion.

    • gladididntvoteforyou says

      So, essentially what you are saying is that students in Detroit should be taught to achieve lower standards than students in Harford County? That’s a blatantly racist and classist idea.

      Your comments show a basic lack of understanding of educational standards and their implementation in the classroom.

      1. The Federal Government did not create nor mandate the Common Core Standards.
      2. The Common Core Standards are just that, STANDARDS. THEY ARE NOT CURRICULUM.
      3. I believe in Local Control of schools, and we still have that within Common Core. HCPS and the citizens of Harford County can meet those standards in whatever way they choose. Classroom instruction is in local control.
      4. The majority of issues raised about Common Core are in all actuality focused on poor choices made by school districts in IMPLEMENTATION of the standards, not the standards themselves. Assignments listed as “Common Core Math” or “Common Core Reading” don’t exist in the standards. They are documents created by school districts utilizing their local control.

      • Mr. Plow says

        That’s not what he said at all… calling him racist is the standard liberal response to any opposing opinion and it’s getting tiresome. The question was whether the more poorly performing areas will suddenly improve because of a common standard or will the higher performing areas see more relaxed standards. It’s a legitimate concern. I understand the institutional mentality that we’re all cookie cutter copies of good little voters… I just don’t agree with it.
        So, the feds said “Hey there State person, here’s a big tempting pile of money but you can’t have any unless you accept this wonderful new plan that of course, we didn’t have anything to do with… it’s not a mandate though, whatever you do don’t call it a mandate… we don’t want to look like we’re forcing you into anything.” Right….

        • gladididntvoteforyou says

          and the standard ultraconservative response is to automatically label someone a “liberal” because they don’t agree with your stance on issues. I am not a liberal, I am a registered republican, voted for Bush twice, McCain, and Romney. I believe in local control of schools, but also believe that all school should at least be speaking the same language.

          The standard to which all students are held in this country should be at the same high level, regardless of whether the system implementing those standards in considering successful or failing. The last statement in Mr. Norman’s post is very clear in stating that students in Harford County deserve better standards than students in “failing” districts, primarily Detroit. It also shows clearly his misunderstanding of how standards work, maintaining that because the standards will be the same in both districts, the classroom instruction will also be the same. How Detroit Public decides to utilize their resources to provide classroom instruction is up to them, just like our BOE controls how the resources of Harford County are used to provide classroom instruction in our schools. Some districts do it better than others.

          Failing districts have a multitude of issues to overcome, with many totally out of there control. One of the items they can control is doing whatever it takes to provide high-level instruction in all of their classrooms, and that starts with setting high expectations by utilizing rigorous standards that all students should achieve.

    • Cdev says

      As a legislator you know that we can and still do add to what common core requires. For example you legislated a service learning requirement which is not part of common core that has not gone away. You legislate a meaningful Chesapeke Bay experience which is again not in common core. Common Core is a minimum standard we can and do make more difficult state and local standards both of which we have done!

    • Meteoric Rhetoric says

      Delegate Norman,

      Not a single one of the top 10 schools in Maryland is in Harford or Cecil County. In fact, to get a single school from Harford or Cecil County you have to drop down to number #32, which is ranked “Near Maryland Average” by US News and World Report. So if you put so much faith in rankings, as you are constantly bragging about your various rankings by special interest groups, it would help if you had rankings to back up your claims. The first Harford County School on the list is so low they stopped giving them rankings.

      But maybe you were talking about the aggregate school district even though you specifically said “some of the best schools”. Harford County ranks 9th in Maryland and Cecil ranks 19th. Be proud, your counties are in the top 80% of all Maryland School Districts, what a distinction.

      • Bang says

        And yet your teachers are paid way down around 22nd or 23rd in the state. So be glad you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck.

        How about this….whereever HCPS schools rank in the state, that’s where the teachers need to be paid. If they rank 1st, they should be the best paid; if they rank last, the worst paid. Since they now rank 9th, let’s pay them the 9th best! Pay for performance, right? Fair is fair…!

          • mandarin says

            You, like everyone else, are assuming that steps means years of service. In HCPS, that is not the case. Teachers are several steps behind where they should be, making anyone’s assumption about the data flawed. If HCPS teachers had their steps funded, then they would have very little reason for complaint. But when you are five or so steps below where you should be, every other teacher in the surrounding areas is making a lot more with the same years of service.

            Try comparing apples to apples.

          • Interesting says

            Well isn’t this interesting.

            According to:


            When you use current salary scales rather than ones that are four years old, HCPS teachers with a bachelors degree and a teaching certificate are 20th in the state in salary, while your brethren in Cecil County are paid 10th. HCPS teachers with a masters degree and an advanced certificate (which is required by year 10)are 19th in the state.

            What a difference a few years of neglect can make.

  3. FactChecker says

    Dear Legislator, you have no idea what you are talking about. It is ignorant republican lies that common core is a federal government mandate. The only connection the feds have to it was in order to get race to the top funding you had to have common core or moving toward it. This was created by governors and local government.

  4. Burbey Bunch says

    These numbers are a stunning indictment of Maryland’s educational system. Junior college is merely the 13th grade having a modicum of standards – proving that the incoming students, at best, are only partially literate. We don’t need old murk in new guise, created by the same old failed educator’s claptrap. We need to clear the forest and salt the ground.

  5. Mr. Plow says

    It seems to me that if this were as great as it’s proponents preach everyone would be flocking to it and demanding it for their children. Instead, as per Federal Government standard operating procedure, funding is tied to accepting and praising it as the next fantastic plan that will set us all free… oh, thank you so much all knowing central ruling authority… as usual, the Feds are eating your carrot while they beat you with the stick… the stick they made you pay to over-engineer and charged 100 times the going rate for…

  6. Guac Jock says

    You know, I got to say that parents have role to play in this as well. I know the typical parent won’t want to hear that. But when I was a kid, if you failed a class you were grounded until the grade rose. When you failed a test, you were grounded until you could prove that your grade was rising. Today, the kid runs the house. They fail, it isn’t their fault…regardless of how little they studied. When they fail a class, it must be because the teacher doesn’t like the student. It has to be. Parents have devolved from parents to best friends who want to be liked, and this impacts student learning.

    Kudos to all of the parents out there who actually parent and enforce their expectations! I wish there were more like you. I am so glad that I don’t have to raise my kids in this day and age…jeez. The sense of entitlement, without effort, is repulsive.

    • Burbey Bunch says


      But where is all this reinforced? A parent can limit media and follow up on homework. But once they get to school they find teachers specializing in political activism and gender equity. Look at the test scores. Those children who do not go on to college probably cannot read at all – and the teachers (notice the posts in this thread) are suggesting they deserve more money because their test scores are not as bad as the other teachers who are paid more.

      You know, after being in the education bubble all the way through college, those who go into teaching never get out of the edu-bubble. Their world is identified by their own insular paradigm. A company that put out a product with that success rate would fold. Teachers say, “We suck less than the other guy so give me a raise.”

      • Guac Jock says

        I think it is really a 2 way street. You could reverse that and say…what about all of the material and skills that a teacher taught the student, where is that reinforced? Someone has to say “Do your homework” and then check to make sure it was done properly. Someone has to say “Study for your test” and then make sure studying is actually happening.

        I see your point. The only way this works is when parents buy into the process and work with their children, enforce rules, and demand academic performance. This only works when teachers buy in and dynamically challenge students and teach content.

        It is a two way street. I was merely pointing out that you can’t blame this solely on the teachers. Are they to blame? Some of them are, absolutely! Some are collecting a pay check and they need to be booted from their jobs ASAP. However, there are some working hard….and they need parents to do their fair shair at home to reinforce what is being taught at school.

        As far as political activism in the classroom, my children never expressed those concerns. But if teachers are actually doing this, they need to go as well…no matter which agenda they are pushing.

        • Burbey Bunch says


          According to our own state exams we have 80% or better above proficient, while 70% need remedial work at the junior college level. In the words of John Keats, “- that is all Ye know on earth, and all Ye need to know.”

  7. See's things says

    Want more money? Tell that to the asshole school bus driver who ran into the back of a car sitting at the routes 543/136 intersection 2 weeks ago. It was a clear and cut case of a car yielding to 136 and a school bus following too close, and not paying attention.