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New curriculum aims to put states on same standard

SUWANEE -- By third grade, students should know how to write a complex sentence and add fractions, no matter if they live in Georgia or California.

Eighth-graders should understand the Pythagorean theorem. And by high school graduation, all U.S. students should be ready for college or a career.

That's the goal of sweeping new education benchmarks released Wednesday called the Common Core State Standards, a project that aims to replace a hodgepodge of educational goals varying wildly from state to state with a uniform set of expectations for students. It's the first time states have joined together to establish what students should know by the time they graduate high school.

"In Gwinnett County, we're already pretty lucky, but I understand all states and areas aren't as lucky," said Holly Melton, a Gwinnett County parent who attended Wednesday's announcement at Peachtree Ridge High School. "We're already a step ahead of this process in Gwinnett County, but I think it's wonderful that all across the country, we're all going to be on the same page."

States are expected to use the standards to revise their curriculum and tests to make learning more uniform across the country, eliminating inequities in education not only between states but also among districts. The standards also will ensure students transferring to a school district in a different state won't be far behind their classmates or have to repeat classes because they are more advanced.

Gwinnett County Board of Education Chairwoman Mary Kay Murphy said she thinks the Common Core State Standards initiative will be a good thing for the nation because it promotes access and equity in education.

"(The initiative) positions our country and the students who are being prepared for a global work force ... to be able to meet those challenges and not to have to take remedial courses every step along the way," she said.

Murphy said she has been studying the issue of common standards for some time, and she has also spent some time reading the standards.

"They're cumulative, they can be benchmarked, and they can be quantified," she said.

Under Common Core, third-graders should understand subject-verb agreement, fifth-graders need to know about metaphors and similes, and seventh-graders must understand how to calculate surface area. States that sign up are supposed to use the standards as a base on which to build their curricula and testing, but they can make their benchmarks tougher than Common Core.

Dale Robbins, Gwinnett County Public Schools' associate superintendent for teaching and learning support, said the school system found some strong correlations between its Academic Knowledge and Skills Curriculum and an early draft of the Common Core State Standards.

With the rollout of the Georgia Performance Standards, the state has already been working toward strengthening its curriculum, Robbins said.

"We feel very good that we have a strong curriculum," Robbins said, referring to Gwinnett's AKS, "but (the Common Core initiative) will help us extend it further, we do believe."

Robbins and Murphy both said they were pleased a Gwinnett high school was selected as the site to release the standards.

"It's a great compliment to the work our school system is doing and recognition of our leaders in forging ahead in developing the highest standards for our students," Murphy said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.