Setting the Academic Expectations Students Deserve

Our K-12 public education system is only as rigorous as the expectations we set for our students. The previous federal education law – No Child Left Behind – set perverse incentives for states to lower academic standards. Encouraging and incentivizing states to pursue higher learning standards is critical to providing students with the education they deserve and ensuring America can compete in a global, knowledge-based economy.

Through Race to the Top and a flexibility program that alleviated states of punitive restrictions under No Child Left Behind, the Obama administration propelled state-led efforts to raise academic standards. For the opportunity to leverage these programs, the vast majority of states – 45 in total from 2011 to 2015 – committed to upgrading their academic standards. Upgrades were pursued either through state partnerships with their four-year public universities to safeguard students entering post-secondary schools from needing remedial coursework before advancing their education, or by adopting common standards developed by a consortium of states.

To further support the transition to higher standards, the Obama Administration invested in the development of new assessments aligned to higher academic standards, moving beyond the all-too-common bubble tests and toward a more dynamic assessment of critical thinking, problem-solving, and writing.

Trends in Student Growth
A long-term analysis of student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), completed in 2012, culminated in positive trends. While all student groups made progress, achievement gaps between students of color and white students also narrowed significantly in data trends dating back to 1970s. In 2015, the high school graduation rate hit an all-time high, rising to 82.3 percent from 79 percent in 2010. And between 2008 and 2013, the number of high schools labeled “dropout factories” – where fewer than 60 percent of ninth graders graduate four years later – dropped by almost 20 percent, from about 1,750 high schools to roughly 1,425 high schools.