ACT Study Points to Gaps between Common Core Standards and College Expectations

IOWA CITY, Iowa—New research from ACT points to certain discrepancies between portions of the Common Core State Standards and skills some educators believe are most important for college readiness. The results of the newest ACT National Curriculum Survey, released today, identify specific skills and approaches in English and mathematics that are valued more by teachers and/or college instructors than those emphasized in the Common Core.

“ACT’s findings should not be interpreted as a rebuke of the Common Core,” said ACT Chief Executive Officer Marten Roorda. “However, the data highlight the disconnect between what is emphasized in the Common Core and what some college instructors perceive as important to college readiness.”

Specifically, the ACT report reveals the following findings:

• While secondary teachers may be focusing on source-based writing, as emphasized in the Common Core, college instructors appear to value the ability to generate sound ideas more than some key features of source-based writing.
• Some early elementary teachers are still teaching certain math topics omitted from the Common Core Standards, perhaps based on the needs—real or perceived—of students entering their classrooms.
• In addition, many mathematics teachers in grades 4–7 report including certain topics relevant in STEM coursework in their curricula at grades earlier than they appear in the Common Core.

Along with its report on the findings in general, ACT has released a policy report titled ACT National Curriculum Survey 2016—Education and Work in a Time of Change which highlights findings that are particularly relevant to current education policy issues. The policy report points to four key conclusions:

• The need to prepare students for college and work success is still of paramount necessity in K-12 education.
• Nonacademic skills are important for success in college and the workplace.
• Teachers may need to place greater emphasis on students’ technology skills, especially in the context of computer-based assessments.
• Overall, K-12 teachers tend not to use large-scale assessment results in the classroom.

The report also provides recommendations to help states in the pursuit of college or workforce success for all students.

This year’s survey for the first time included a sampling of workforce supervisors and employees to provide a snapshot of how well the priorities of educators match those of the workforce. The findings highlight a disagreement between K-12 and college educators and workforce professionals about which math topics are important to success in postsecondary STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses and careers as well as when those topics should be introduced in the school curriculum.

The results suggest workforce professionals value a unique set of knowledge and skills as important to success in the workplace. Nonacademic skills such as conscientiousness, problem solving, critical thinking and understanding the ethical use of information were rated more highly by workforce respondents than by educators. And workforce respondents place high value on speaking and listening skills, as workforce communication relies more heavily on face-to-face than on written communication.

ACT conducts the ACT National Curriculum Survey every three to four years. The survey collects data from thousands of elementary and secondary teachers and instructors of first-year college courses about the skills and knowledge that are taught in schools and expected for success in college-level coursework. The results help inform ACT’s assessments to ensure that they measure the content and skills important for success in college and career based on the latest research and evidence available.

Findings from the ACT National Curriculum Survey helped inform the development of the Common Core State Standards in 2009. The current National Curriculum Survey is the second to be conducted by ACT since that time.

The 2016 results are based on a national sample of 9,266 participants, including elementary, middle school and high school teachers and college instructors in English, writing, math, reading and science as well as workforce supervisors and employees. The report may be viewed or downloaded for free on ACT’s website at: