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OUR VIEW: Benchmarks give students a progress gauge

On Thursday, Georgia joined 20 states in adopting a set of standards for what students should be expected to know at certain points in their education.

Known as the Common Core State Standards, the benchmarks supersede the various educational goals that the different states in the group have set. The standards will be incorporated in time for the start of the 2011-12 school year.

Under the standards, for instance, a fifth-grader in any of the participating states should be able to classify two-dimensional figures in a hierarchy based on properties, while an eighth-grader should have a firm grasp of the Pythagorean theorem. In literature, a seventh-grader should be able to cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what a text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from a text. Third-graders, meanwhile, should be able to distinguish their own point of view from that of the narrator or those of the characters in a text.

There will be some adjustments for Georgia, but an analysis of the state’s current standards by Achieve, a nonprofit education organization based in the nation’s capital, shows that our state’s current standards meet 90 percent of Common Core ones in math and 81 percent in English language arts.

While Common Core has drawn concerns of a “nationalized standard” for education, the standards were not created by the federal government. Common Core is the result of work by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. There were multiple drafts of the standards before they were settled upon and input was received from teachers, parents, school administrators, civil rights leaders, business people and policymakers, along with comments collected online from more than 10,000 people.

There’s no way to project the impact the standards will have on Georgia students, but there should be some optimism that they will help. Students tend to rise — or fall — to expectations. If a student’s parents and teachers believe he or she won’t succeed, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a student is pushed to succeed and is held to a higher standard, the chances are better that he or she will achieve that success.

The important thing is the buy-in. The students, their parents and those who operate our educational systems and those who support those systems have to believe that this is the right pathway and that Georgia students can thrive in this environment.

“The Common Core Georgia Performance Standards define the knowledge and skills students should have within their K-12 education careers so that they will graduate high school fully prepared for college and careers,” Gwinnett County Public Schools Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks said. “I contend that should be the goal for us all.

“This adoption is one that makes sense and is long overdue. I have always maintained that algebra is the same here as it is in New York or in California. Our students will compete with these students and others from around the country and world; these standards will help ensure we prepare students for their future.”

Indeed, students can’t be expected to rise to the challenge until the challenge is raised. Georgia decided to do that Thursday.

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