In just three years, the state of Illinois’ method for assessing whether school children are making progress and whether their schools are doing the job of properly educating those kids will change.

In 2014-15, Illinois will join a host of other states in adopting the Common Core, a set of standards for reading and math (and, later on, science and social studies) that its authors say focus on college preparedness and entry into the workforce.

Standards for reading and math are in place. Those for science and social studies have yet to be developed.

One of the stated goals, and one we can agree on, is to create an assessment tool that measures student achievement consistently. Right now, each state sets its own standards, ones that differ from each other. Some, apparently, are more stringent than others. So in a state where standards are not as high, students may not be achieving at a level that’s as high as the test results might indicate.

Whether the new set of standards will, in fact, push schools to strengthen curriculums in order to “prepare students for success in college and the workforce in a global economy” (which, by the way, are not necessarily the same thing), only time will tell.

Locally, we have some high-achieving school districts – ones like District 96, which have consistently turned out top test scores and District 95, which has consistently improved achievement on state tests. Other schools and districts in the Landmark area have socioeconomic and demographic issues those districts don’t necessarily face, and scores have not been as high.

That is where the No Child Left Behind Act has failed. It’s not that the law didn’t want high-achieving students in districts where the issues are more complex; it sought specifically to raise achievement in those districts.

But by setting arbitrary achievement goals for schools districts, it labeled them as failing and created a set of standards that would become impossible to achieve eventually.

No Child Left Behind focused too closely on school achievement. The focus should be on the progress students make over time. Is the curriculum allowing students to grow and learn and progress?

One of the points of the Common Core assessment is to be measure all students based on standards that are the same from state to state. It makes student mobility less of an issue, because standards being assessed are in common with one another.

It’s impossible at this point to know exactly how this is going to shake out. The logistics of giving a computer-based assessment multiple times per year to districts that vary widely in technological infrastructure and the ability to pay for it looks like a major hurdle. And, of course, the tests themselves haven’t been written yet. No one knows what the Common Core assessment looks like at this point beyond the general standards that have been published.

Local school districts have begun talking among themselves about this major change in standardized testing. As they get more involved, we encourage the districts to share with residents as much information about the changeover as they can, because 2014 will be here before you know it.