COMMON CORE STANDARDS DAILY UPDATE // March 2, 2015

News You Can Use:

Washington Post, “Political Attacks on Common Core Are Driven by Pandering”: Former NBC News anchor and founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice Campbell Brown says opposition to CCSS and many leaders’ explanations for abandoning their support “border on the absurd.” “A basic lesson in recent history shows why Jindal’s conversion appears so disingenuous,” Brown says, noting Gov. Jindal remained a supporter of CCSS long after the Obama administration tied RTTT funds to the initiative. “Did it really take him more than four years to discover that the federal government was involved? Maybe that alone should disqualify him from being a serious presidential candidate,” Brown writes. The piece says Gov. Chris Christie faces similar problems explaining his flip-flop. “All this, of course, is not about education. Or facts…The unpopularity of the initiative with segments of the public has been caused by rough implementation in some states and the tests linked to the standards. That frustration is legitimate and can be addressed. But abandonment of the initiative for political reasons is craven,” Brown says. “So here’s some advice for people running for office: If you want to campaign against core standards, perhaps you should try having core standards of your own first.” On Morning Joe this morning, Brown added, “Much of the opposition to Common Core is based on absolute falsehoods. Common Core is not a federally mandated curriculum…When they make a mockery of an issue as critical as this by playing games, it’s upsetting.”

What It Means: By fanning concerns about CCSS through misleading and often flat-out disingenuous information, a small but vocal constituency has convinced several political leaders to abandon their support for the Standards. Yet, states like South Carolina and Oklahoma show that repealing CCSS for political reasons puts students at a disadvantage and creates a bigger problem of coming up with equally strong standards. Conversely, states like Kentucky and Tennessee, two the earliest adopters, have made some of the biggest academic improvements in the country under the Standards.

Cincinnati Enquirer, “New Tests Take Gimmicks Out of Education”: Ohio parent and teacher Jason Haap says debate about the strength of new CCSS-aligned tests has blurred “focus on the great potential these tests bring to transform Ohio’s educational landscape.” Despite hiccups in the rollout, Haap says CCSS-aligned tests provide a better “real-world” assessment of student progress and mitigate “teaching to the test.” “They require students to think deeply about a set of texts, writing complete essays about how those texts connect. Kids can’t just ‘guess and check’ their way to passing the math tests any more,” Haap writes. “If the new tests can help reform schools in this way towards a new kind of seriousness and creativity, then we should welcome the change rather than mourn the loss of a couple of hours to testing time.”

What It Means: CCSS-aligned assessments are designed to provide parents and educators an honest measure of how well students are developing the skills to succeed at higher level learning. By providing more constructive feedback quicker, exams like PARCC and Smarter Balanced allow teachers to address student needs and ultimately devote less time to testing. And because the exams require students to demonstrate their reasoning they alleviate pressures to “teach to the test.”

Richland Source, “Teachers: Does Common Core Make the Grade?”: Teachers in Ohio say CCSS help them teach deeper content understanding under the Standards and have helped to improve student outcomes. “I see it as being able to take the kids deeper into topics wherein they will actually comprehend the material and not just memorize a bunch of facts,” said one teacher speaking anonymously. “I myself, as a teacher, want my students to be able to grow up and know what things mean and why they work as they do. I also want them to be able to think in depth and to solve problems. [CCSS] allows us to teach them how to do these things.” Another teacher added, “Common Core standards put the emphasis on helping students to develop skills as opposed to content, which is really valuable to students in the digital age.” Of CCSS-aligned exams, one teacher said, “I would say that the stress level is no higher than in previous years for the students.”

What It Means: Teachers who have worked closely with CCSS continue to strongly support implementation despite challenges of acclimating to the new standards. A Scholastic study found more than eight in 10 teachers who have taught to the Standards for at least a year say implementation is going well, and more than two-thirds report an improvement in students’ ability to use critical thinking and analytical skills.

AzFamily.com, “Education Experts Explain Common Core”: A group of education experts in Arizona helped familiarize parents with CCSS and address misconceptions at a community event late last week. Common Core isn’t a curriculum or a lesson plan, the article notes. “Those things are still designed at the local level,” Andrew Morrill of the Arizona Education Association said. “The standards did not come down from the federal government,” added Gloria Chavez, a Mesa public school teacher. CCSS outline “what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade level, period,” said David Garcia, an ASU professor.

What It Means: In states across the country, educators are hosting public outreach events to help engage and educate parents about CCSS. Such engagement is important to address and correct the misinformation leveled against the Standards. Teachers who have worked closely with CCSS strongly support implementation, and most report seeing improvements in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills under the Standards.

Seacoastonline.com, “Seacoast Still Debates Common Core”: Speaking with New Hampshire parents and educators, the article notes much of the opposition to CCSS stems from confusion about what they are. The article points out the Standards pre-date the Obama administration, and are designed to “focus on students’ mastery of specific concepts, grade by grade.” Education expert Bill Duncan notes “100 percent of the schools in New Hampshire are on board with the standards.” “This is really ‘live free or die’ stuff,” he says. In a meeting with the paper, parents expressed concerns the Standards “teach to the middle,” but teachers said CCSS are a big improvement on past standards. “Rigor is achieved by combining conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application equally,” said one middle-school math teacher. “It is the combination of these three that really allows students to meet the standards.” She disagrees with James Milgram’s assertion the Standards do not prepare students for competitive colleges or jobs. “For those who challenge the Common Core Math Standards … read them carefully!  They are intense.”

What It Means: Those who are most involved with CCSS, teachers who have worked closely with them, strongly support the Standards. As the article points out, local educators report that CCSS are a big step up from states’ old standards, and in states across the country teachers say they have seen an improvement in students’ ability to use critical thinking and reasoning skills because of the increased focus on content understanding.


 

Correcting the Record:

New York Times, “As Common Core Testing Is Ushered In, Parents and Students Opt Out”: The arrival of new CCSS-aligned assessments “has been marked with well-organized opposition, a spate of television attack ads and a cascade of parental anxiety,” the article reports. Although the “true size is hard to gauge,” opt-out movements in almost every state have “caught the attention of education officials.” Even though assessments don’t begin until third grade, New Jersey’s teachers union is running ads featuring a parent describing the pressure put on “his overworked first grader.” A spokesperson said the union opposes the exams because “true teaching is being replaced by test preparation.” Parent groups are also mounting campaigns. “I’m refusing because we’re taking a stand against this deeply flawed policy,” said one parent. “I feel like the only thing left to do is just say no.” Yet, other parents and educators are not buying in. “There is no other objective way to measure classroom success in public schools,” one parent noted.

Where They Went Wrong: Strong assessments are an important tool to ensure students are on track to develop the skills to succeed at higher levels of learning, and that high standards fulfill their purpose. CCSS-aligned exams are designed to provide constructive, accurate measures of student progress so teachers and parents can address student needs. And because they provide more useful metrics, they will allow schools to begin gradually to scale back testing and test preparation. As NorthJersey.com reports (see below), the number of students opting out of exams remains low compared to those participating in the assessments.


 

On Our Reading List:

NorthJersey.com, “Testing Day for NJ Students: Number Who Opt Out Small Compared with Those Taking Test”: Despite teachers and parents urging a boycott of CCSS-aligned tests, schools say the number of students opting out of assessments is small compared with those taking them. Although decisions to opt-out vary by district, “In some large districts…the test refusals have been but a blip,” the article reports. To encourage participation, schools are stepping up efforts to “tout the tests’ merits.”

Charleston Daily Mail, “Common Core Repeal Not a Sure Thing in Senate”: As the West Virginia state Senate Education Committee is set to discuss repeal of CCSS, Republican lawmakers said the bill under consideration is not likely to succeed. “I do not believe that there is a strong desire in our caucus or the other caucus to push this issue,” said Sen. Daneil Hall, who serves as Majority Whip.

Yakima Herald, “Common Core Exams Begin Soon, and Many School Districts Are Ready to Go”: Schools in Yakima Valley in Washington say they are prepared to administer new Smarter Balanced exams this spring. “It sounds like everybody is feeling much more comfortable than they were months ago,” said Ric Pilgrim, assistant superintendent. The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction says almost 70 percent of the state’s public schools will take the assessments online, though schools are more prepared than many thought they would be, the article reports.