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California is at a critical junction in reforming curriculum and improving graduation rates, closing achievement gaps, and preparing all students for success after high school. The challenges are significant, and it is clear that California must embrace creative approaches to creating opportunities for students and communities. Two important changes are taking place to educational curriculum: adoption of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics; and Linked Learning, a move toward integrated academic and technical education that prepares students for both college and career after high school graduation.

Common Core State Standards

In 2009, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA) committed to developing a set of national education standards that would help prepare students for success in career and college. On August 2, 2010 the California State Board of Education (SBE) adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. To date, 45 states, the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands have adopted the CCSS.

The CCSS, if implemented with fidelity, has the potential to dramatically improve K-12 education. The common core are more rigorous standards that emphasize critical thinking and problem solving skills, and better prepare students for a competitive, global economy.

College and Career-ready Curriculum

Amid ongoing policy discussions about preparing students for both college and career success, California has begun to embrace several approaches to providing integrated academic and career technical curriculum. The belief is that curricular pathways that link academic and career preparation lead to higher graduation rates, increased college enrollment, and higher earning potential.

The multiple pathways approach, called Linked Learning, allows students to follow industry-themed pathways in one of 15 career industries adopted by the State Board of Education in 2005. The curriculum in each pathway connects classroom learning with students’ interests and real-world applications by incorporating technical content in academic courses and using academic standards in technical curriculum.

What’s New

Two policy changes are taking place simultaneous that have the potential to shift California’s curriculum to have a greater emphasis on career technical education and the Linked Learning approach.

In July 2014, the current statewide student assessment system – the Student Testing and Reporting (STAR) program tests – is scheduled to sunset. With the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, California joined the SBAC consortium, which has developed computer-adaptive tests aligned to the CCSS in ELA and math, and designed to assess college and career readiness. The SBAC assessments currently assess only academic content, which means that foundational career-ready skills and competencies would need to be incorporated into the curriculum of all students in order to be included as test items in the student assessment system.

Additionally, SB 1458 was signed into law in September 2012, which calls for the inclusion of graduation rates in the API and has the potential to include factors aimed at measuring college and career readiness. SB 1458 permits the Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to submit for approval by the State Board of Education (SBE), valid, reliable, and stable measures of college and career readiness.

CSBA Activity

CSBA provides regular updates to members about the status and implications of policy decisions that could impact curriculum, and provides members with resources to assist in the transition to the Common Core State Standards, the SBAC Assessments, and a new Academic Performance Index.

CSBA is working with ConnectEd, an organization founded by the Irvine foundation to advance practice, policy and research to help students become prepared for both college and career after high school, and is a member of the Linked Learning Alliance. CSBA provides assistance to governing teams that have received grant funding from the James Irvine foundation to implement the Linked Learning approach.