SUWANEE, Ga. —By third grade, students should know how to write a complex sentence and add fractions, no matter whether 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 to establish what students should know by the time they graduate from high school.
"With these standards, we can provide all of the country's children with the education they deserve," said West Virginia schools superintendent Steve Paine, who gathered with other educators and officials from across the country at Peachtree Ridge High School in Suwanee just outside Atlanta to release the final draft of the standards. "Having consistent standards across the states means all of our children are going to be prepared for college and career, regardless of ZIP code."
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.
The Kansas Department of Education staff is pleased with the set of common math and reading standards because, with the addition of some material, adopting them could help set a higher bar for Kansas students, interim commissioner Diane DeBacker said.
State educators will seek feedback from Kansans this summer, and she said the state board of education would discuss in early fall whether to adopt them.
Standards define what a student should know at each grade level, and they are the basis for what students are asked on state assessments.
New state tests based on the common standards wouldn't be used until the 2014-15 school year, DeBacker said.
"We aren't under any pressure to do it quickly," she said.
Adopting the common standards is now required only of states competing in the second round of the federal Race to the Top grant competition. Kansas isn't participating.
DeBacker said pressure to use the common standards could come with the reauthorization for the federal education law, currently called No Child Left Behind, but that isn't expected to happen for months.
Under Common Core, for example, 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.
All but two states — Alaska and Texas — signed on to the original concept of Common Core more than a year ago.
Critics worry that the standards will nationalize public schools rather than letting states decide what is best for their students. Texas' commissioner of education, Robert Scott, has said that the state didn't sign on to Common Core because it wants to preserve its "sovereign authority to determine what is appropriate for Texas children to learn in its public schools."
So far, the standards have been adopted by Kentucky, Hawaii, Maryland, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Another 40 states and Washington, D.C., have agreed to adopt the standards in coming months, said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which joined with the National Governors Association in leading the Common Core project.