In 2009, a group of concerned state leaders came together through their membership in the National Governors Association (NGA) and Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) to craft a new set of academic standards for kindergarten through twelfth grade. This work was borne out of concern that students across the nation were graduating (or in many cases, not graduating) with high school diplomas that did not guarantee that they were adequately prepared for college and career. Standards developed by states varied widely in terms of content (what students should learn), progression (when they should learn it) and rigor (how challenging should it be). This meant that a high school diploma could mean very different things depending on the state that it was granted in.

With this challenge in mind, the NGA, CCSSO and several other organizations worked in partnership with experts and educators to develop college- and career-ready standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts that would lay out the skills all students should master by the end of high school in order to be prepared for college and career. From there, they worked backwards to craft complimentary academic standards that built up from kindergarten through the 12th grade. These standards, called the Common Core State Standards, were released in 2010 and subsequently adopted in 45 states by 2013. Since then, three states (Oklahoma, Indiana and South Carolina) have replaced the Common Core Standards with their own standards. In the case of Indiana and South Carolina, these standards are very similar to those outlined in the Common Core, while Oklahoma has reverted to its previous academic standards. Of the eight states who do not currently use the Common Core State Standards, all have adopted college- and career-ready standards, as determined by the U.S. Department of Education.

The Common Core does not specify college-and-career-ready standards for prekindergarten. Many Common Core states wishing to align instruction between pre-K and K-12 have updated new early learning guidelines or standards to provide an aligned foundation for students’ work in kindergarten. New America’s report From Crawling to Walking details individual states’ efforts on college-and-ready guidelines and standards for early learning.