Kentucky Common Core Rollout: First State to Implement Standards Demonstrates “Faster Progress” in Learning

Washington, D.C. – Results from the first state to adopt the Common Core State Standards—Kentucky—show that students with more exposure to the standards “made faster progress in learning” than peers who followed the older state standards, according to a study conducted by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While the report’s authors are careful not to attribute student achievement gains to the Common Core, they conclude that “fears about [the standards’] impact on student outcomes may be overstated.” The analysis was written by experts with the National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER) at AIR.

“Kentucky implemented the Common Core and within the first couple of years, it overcame the challenges associated with the transition and its student college-readiness improved,” said Zeyu Xu, an AIR principal researcher and lead author of the report. “While the reasons for this require further study, it is significant that student achievement experienced a net gain in the early years of Common Core rollout.”

In the fall of 2010, Kentucky became the first state to adopt the Common Core. The standards were developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to combat concerns that the United States was falling behind on international assessments of student achievement and was stagnating on home-grown measures, such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the SAT and ACT.

The increased difficulty of the test and the relative unfamiliarity of teachers with the new process also prompted predictions that initial scores on Common Core tests would be lower than they were on previous state achievement tests.

In the spring of 2012, Kentucky administered its first tests based on the Common Core after the first full year of implementation. Testing against harder standards, proficiency ratings dropped 30 percentage points from the year before. New York, the second state to test under the new standards, saw a similar drop.

But when viewed against a more objective measure of what students actually learned, a different picture emerged. Kentucky is one of the few states to require all 11th graders to take the ACT—a test widely considered a key predictor of college course performance. Given this requirement, in effect since 2007, AIR researchers could examine the college-ready skills of all students, not just those who already decided to go to college, before and after the Common Core’s implementation.

AIR examined three groups of students: those who took the ACT in 2010-11, just prior to the Common Core’s implementation; those who took the ACT in 2011-12 after one year of implementation; and those who took the ACT in 2012-13 after two years of learning under the Common Core.

Though they started high school with similar test scores, students from the latter two groups made more progress in terms of academic proficiency on the ACT, researchers found.

According to the report, students exposed to the new standards—spanning both high- and low-poverty schools—made “faster progress in learning than similar students who were not exposed to the standards.”

“Although it is not conclusive whether…improvement was entirely attributable to the standards reform, we found that students made large gains in proficiency in the years immediately before and after the transition,” the report said. Researchers also found that student performance in subjects with Common Core-aligned curricula “experienced…larger, more immediate improvement than student performance in subjects that carried over the last generation curriculum framework.”

To view the full report, go to Getting College and Career Ready During State Transition Toward the Common Core State Standards.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit


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