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The Daily Tar Heel

North Carolina considers adjusting Common Core — or scrapping it altogether

new testing policies

DTH Photo Illustration. North Carolina State Superintendent Mark Johnson announced that the state Department of Public Instruction is making changes to standardized tests, making the tests shorter to help ease the strain on students and teachers. 

10 years after adopting Common Core, North Carolina is deciding whether to stand by the revisions it made in 2016 or to scrap the current standards and start anew.

On Feb. 11, State Superintendent Mark Johnson texted and emailed a survey to over half a million parents. 

“N.C. Superintendent Johnson wants to remove Common Core from N.C. schools," the message said. "Do you?”

On Thursday, Johnson posted that more than 71,000 people completed the survey and over 78 percent indicated that they want North Carolina to remove Common Core standards.

Johnson is nearing the end of his four-year term as state superintendent. Instead of seeking reelection, he is running for lieutenant governor in the upcoming Republican primary election on March 3.

Some parents and teachers said they see Johnson’s mass text and email as a publicity stunt, but Johnson said he has vocally opposed Common Core since the standards were reapproved — with revisions — in 2017.

Although a commission revised the standards in 2016 to better fit state needs, Education Week listed North Carolina as one of 34 states that had kept a majority of Common Core standards through 2017. The state rebranded these revisions as the "North Carolina Standard Course of Study."

The language today isn’t always clear — some still call today’s standards “Common Core,” and some insist that Common Core ended in 2016. 

N.C. State Board of Education policy mandates a review and update of their standards every five to seven years. The last review of standards began in 2014, with changes implemented in 2016. Regardless of whether Common Core’s opponents manage to sway the Board of Education, some change will likely come — only the scale remains unclear.

Olivia Oxendine, professor at UNC-Pembroke and member of the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s Board of Education, said reading scores in grades three through eight have plateaued in the state over the past several years.

“The Common Core Standards just don't seem to be moving the needle in terms of student achievement,” she said.

State Board of Education Chairperson Eric Davis said he believes that although the standards have room to grow, current North Carolina standards provide a strong foundation for improving schools. Davis said parent and teacher responses to the standards have for the most part been pleasurable.

The team of educators, consultants and experts formed by the National Governors Association and a council of state superintendents who originally designed Common Core in 2009 hoped to boost American students up the international rankings, where they had repeatedly underperformed.

Although the Obama administration had no hand in designing the standards, it offered states a powerful incentive to adopt them: a share of billions of federal dollars available to schools through Race to the Top grants. Among other things, that money could help swallow the costs of switching standards — paying for new textbooks, new tests, teacher training and other resources.

Tina Key, a fifth grade teacher at Mountain View Elementary School in Jefferson, N.C., said this process was expensive because it involved investing in supplies that accompanied different teaching methods. If the state were to adjust these standards drastically again, it could impose similar costs, but this time around, without any federal incentives.

She said she struggled sometimes with the broad scope of knowledge Common Core asked teachers to cover in one year and acknowledges it had issues, but she thinks North Carolina was too quick to back away from the program. 

"I feel like maybe if we would have stuck it out over time, it would have been to our benefit," she said.

Key said one strength of Common Core was pushing for students to understand their work rather than memorize. 

“That’s the piece that’s missing with what we’re doing now," she said. "The emphasis is not on the ‘why’ as much as it was.”

Oxendine raised concerns shared by a number of opponents to Common Core, calling the standards too confusing, not targeted and not developmentally appropriate.


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