Teachers’ unions, historically aligned with the Democrats, endorsed the standards and helped develop them. But they now complain about botched efforts to put them in place and say it’s unfair to use Common Core-based assessments in new teacher evaluation systems rolling out in much of the United States—at least until schools have implemented the standards correctly.

The issue has gotten pulled into a general anti-testing backlash in parts of the country. To ease the testing concerns, Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently said he would allow states to delay using students’ test scores in teacher evaluation systems.

“What really has happened is that this has become a politicized issue, and it’s become an ideological symbol, interestingly, on both sides,” said Patrick McGuinn, a political science professor at Drew University. He said the standards and the assessments designed under them are generally considered acceptable or of high quality.

Meanwhile, school prepare

Far from the political discourse, American classrooms continue to be transformed by the use of the standards, with new curricula developed and teachers trained. Some parents are perplexed by the new ways their children are completing their lessons.

Supporters like former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican who helped lead the governors’ group that identified the goals set by Common Core, say politics and mistruths have hijacked a needed and effective education overhaul.

The standards were a response from governors in a defensive mode to keep the federal government out of education, Perdue said, and he supported the changes out of concern for U.S. students’ global competitiveness. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is among the standards’ backers as well.

“It’s just a situation that I don’t think should have become political, which has become politically toxic—and I don’t really know how to decontaminate that,” Perdue said.

Shifting public opinion

A PDK/Gallup Poll released Aug. 20 found a dramatic change in the number of people aware of the standards. Last year, two-thirds of those surveyed said they’d never heard of the standards. This year, 81 percent said they had—and 6 in 10 said they oppose them.

Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of the national organization representing school superintendents, said polling provides more evidence it’s important to “slow down to get it right.”

This school year marks a milestone. This coming spring, roughly 11 million students in more than half the states are expected to take new computer-based assessments aligned with Common Core standards that were developed by two groups of states to replace the standardized tests that had been used.

States can choose the assessment to be used, but those decisions have not been without controversy. Some states that originally joined the consortiums, including Georgia and Michigan, have dropped out and opted for different tests.

Awaiting results

The rollout of Common Core-based tests will be watched closely for computer glitches and other problems, as well as to see how well students perform.

(Next page: A state-by-state look at where the Common Core rollout stands)