COMMON CORE STANDARDS DAILY UPDATE // NOVEMBER 30, 2015

News You Can Use:

New York Times, “Massachusetts’ Common Core Path”: Massachusetts education officials did not reject PARCC or Common Core State Standards by voting to create an independent, hybrid exam, Mitchell Chester, the state’s education commissioner clarifies in a letter to the editor. “In fact, [Massachusetts] embraced PARCC as part of the future of statewide assessment…Massachusetts will remain part of the PARCC consortium and will include PARCC content in our updated statewide assessment.” State educators spent years helping to build PARCC, and “Massachusetts students will continue to benefit from that work.” The decision will “combine PARCC with parts of our existing state assessment, known as MCAS, and make any state-specific adjustments we require.” Chester concludes, “Participation in PARCC is not an all-or-nothing decision. It will be up to individual member states to decide how to participate in the consortium in the manner that best suits each of them.”

What It Means: While media reports have characterized Massachusetts’ move toward a hybrid test as evidence states are abandoning Common Core State Standards and high-quality assessments, Chester makes clear that is not true. PARCC material will remain a “substantial component” of state tests and will ensure educators have the resources to meet student needs. Likewise, the state will continue to implement Common Core State Standards, as nearly all of the 45 states that initially adopted them are. In a recent memo, Karen Nussle explains that Massachusetts “will have 21st century, high quality tests focused on the skills that matter for success in life that are not only comparable across states but also provide honest, accurate information to parents and educators.”

Newsday, “Some Latino Parents Support Common Core”: Latino parents “care deeply about ensuring that their children are ready to succeed,” which is why the Latino community overwhelmingly welcomes “high standards and accurate measurements,” writes Peggy McLeod, vice president of education for the National Council of La Raza. “For too long, the quality of the education that a child receives, or his or her ability to succeed in college and career, has been determined by where family lives, how much money it makes or its race or ethnicity,” McLeod writes. “The Common Core state standards and the tests that are aligned to them are solid steps in the right direction because they provide parents with a more honest look at how a child is doing and whether he or she is on track to succeed.” High-quality assessments provide an important tool to measure student readiness and help educators and parents “prepare students for what lies ahead.”

What It Means: Honest assessments are one of the strongest resources parents and teachers have to measure student development and to identify and address learning needs. Earlier this year, 12 national civil and human rights groups urged policymakers to oppose efforts that would undermine these high-quality tests. Likewise, Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League wrote earlier this year, “Common Core Standards will help bridge the achievement gap by leveling the playing field so that all students, regardless of race, geography or income, have an equal shot at gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.” “Parents deserve to have a true picture of how their children are performing and whether they are prepared for college,” former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson wrote this year. He continued, “We can and must continue implementing them so our students are ready to succeed in whatever opportunities they pursue.”

Salon, “You’re Wrong about Common Core Math: Sorry, Parents, But It Makes More Sense than You Think”: Several confusing problems that have gone viral have stirred concerns about math instruction under Common Core State Standards, but the new framework is helping students develop a stronger understanding of math skills, writes Jim Goodman, an Ohio math teacher. “All of these criticisms boil down to a fundamental misunderstanding of the Common Core State Standards,” Goodman writes. “The ultimate goal of these standards is to help our children to develop their foundational understandings of our number system and of basic arithmetic.” Common Core State Standards do not “require stringent adherence to narrow, arbitrarily chosen interpretations of these models.” Goodman continued, “The goal of math classes should be to foster a deep-level understanding of the mechanisms that we teach.” Common Core State Standards prioritize those skills. Goodman concludes, “The last thing we need right now, in my opinion as an educator, is to start over again with a new set of standards just as we’re getting used to the Common Core.”

What It Means: In addition to traditional learning methods, Common Core State Standards introduce students to multiple problem-solving approaches in order to help them develop a stronger understanding of numbers and functions. To be sure, Common Core State Standards require students to know all their math facts, just as their parents learned. As Goodman notes, in early grades, they are expected to learn their addition and subtraction facts and to be able to complete them quickly and accurately. But exposure to multiple approaches helps to build the basic skills students need to succeed at high levels of learning by cultivating conceptual understanding of math mechanics.

New Orleans Advocate, “After Politics, a Long Life for Common Core”: Governor-Elect John Bel Edwards has expressed that he will seek to get rid of Common Core State Standards in Louisiana, but future academic expectations are likely to resemble and build on the Common Core framework no matter what they’re called, the editorial board writes. “[Officials] may not call our future standards Common Core, but the subject matter is going to be compatible.” Criticism of the standards has been based on misleading arguments, but all the “politics” doesn’t amount to much “because the movement to improve school standards continues.” “With Common Core in place, we’re far better positioned to be able to tell if an A-rated school in Louisiana is as good as A-rated schools elsewhere,” the piece concludes. “As with the mythical Lake Wobegon, Louisiana’s standards for achievement cannot be an official declaration that all our children are above average.”

What It Means: States like Louisiana have made big strides to close Honesty Gaps by adopting rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments. While the term “Common Core” may still be a rallying cry for a small group of activists, most states are refining and building on the standards further, exactly as they were designed. Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, explains, “It’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like the Common Core. That’s because Common Core, though not perfect, represents a good-faith effort to incorporate the current evidence of what students need to know and do to succeed.” So even while some officials may dislike the term Common Core, the standards are here to stay.

Raleigh News & Observer, “Common Core Ignites Math War in North Carolina”: New approaches to math instruction have become a “flashpoint” in the debate over Common Core State Standards in North Carolina, but educators see the value in the changes happening as schools implement the standards. “Some teachers are making the computations with models into monstrously complex exercises,” says John Scheick, who led the Common Core math review in North Carolina. But many teachers disagree. “Before, what we had was algorithms, formulas, ways of computing numbers but not necessarily understanding what you are doing with the numbers,” says Dana Snapp, a fifth-grade teacher. “That made it really difficult when they got to higher-level math.” And now supporters are speaking up. “It is unclear whether the [Academic Standards Review Commission] analysis simply misunderstood the inclusions in the Common Core or neglected them in their review,” the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics wrote. “It again calls into question the quality and thoroughness of the review and the validity of resulting recommendations.” The review commission is scheduled to submit its final report to the State Board of Education in December.

What It Means: Educators’ and experts’ support for Common Core State Standards underscores the importance of putting student needs ahead of politics. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills, and more than 80 percent were enthusiastic about implementation. By introducing students to multiple problem-solving approaches, in addition to traditional techniques, Common Core State Standards ensure more students will develop the skills to succeed at high levels of learning, and ultimately graduate high school fully prepared for college and careers.


Correcting the Record:

Charlotte Observer, “A Bittersweet Legacy for the Common Core”: Massachusetts’ decision to pursue a hybrid student assessment signals that the Common Core is soon to be “dead,” the editorial board writes. “Massachusetts joins more than 15 states that have left the effort or, like North Carolina, are taking steps to do so. Each departure dilutes the case that Common Core… helps states measure how well they’re educating children by comparing test results with other states.” The editorial attributes opposition to “a lethal blend of politics and selfishness” fed by distortion of the standards and related assessments. “The Common Core also got caught up in the fight over standardized testing.” Still, states aren’t “ditching the Common Core tests,” they are “rebranding them.” “In at least some cases, much of the rigor remains…In the end, states are acknowledging that they need better standards…But as with so many other things, the ‘common’ was the biggest obstacle of all.”

Where They Went Wrong: While the editorial underscores the importance of high, comparable academic expectations, it buys into the faulty premise that Massachusetts’ decision to pursue a new hybrid student assessment is evidence states are getting rid of Common Core State Standards and the high-quality tests that support them. Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester has made clear that the state is not abandoning the Common Core or high-quality assessments. “We have not abandoned either one,” Chester said in a statement last week. “Educators have been teaching curricula aligned with the Common Core for several years, and…teachers will continue to do so and to build on the standards.” In fact, most states continue to refine and build on the Common Core. As Louisiana State Superintendent John White explained earlier this year, “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline…and that is a fantastic success.”

New York Times, “Algebra Scores Prompt Second Look at Revamped Regents Exams”: Education officials in New York face the decision of whether to make the Board of Regents exams easier after only 63 percent of students met proficiency benchmarks and the state is scheduled to increase its “college- and career-ready level” by 14 percentage points. Less than a quarter of students scored at the college-ready level on the most recent tests. “Confronted with the consequences of higher standards, the Regents, like education officials across the country, are now rethinking them,” the article reports. “This fall, they established a committee to study the results on the new exams to determine, among other things, whether the bar for passing, which students would have to meet starting in 2022, had been set too high.” “Does it look reasonable right now? I would say, no, it doesn’t,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said earlier this year.

Where They Went Wrong: For too long states inflated levels of student proficiency by lowering the bar, a reality made clear by the Honesty Gap analysis. States like New York have taken steps to correct the problem by implementing rigorous education standards and honest assessments. By expanding the definition of proficient to include students who are not, officials risk undoing that work. “This is exactly the problem that a lot of policymakers and educators were trying to solve,” Karen Nussle explained of a similar situation in Ohio, “to get a more honest assessment of where kids are and being transparent about that with parents and educators so that we could do something about it.” Mike Petrilli adds, while the results may be “sobering,” parents should “resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or associated tests.”

Real Clear Education, “Uniform Testing of Common Core in Disarray as Massachusetts Leaves the Aligned System”: Massachusetts’ decision to pursue an independent student assessment removes the “luster” of Common Core State Standards and the tests that support them, write Bill Evers and Ze’ev Wurman, two outspoken critics of the Common Core. “Massachusetts’s reputation for excellence boosted, by implication, the reputation of Common Core. But now the state’s influential example will have the opposite effect. The withdrawal of Massachusetts now smooths the way for further states to leave.” Common Core State Standards are not “world class,” the authors add. “Pretending that Common Core has succeeded in finding the unique and perfect combination of content and sequence is both foolish and arrogant.” The piece concludes, “Rejecting the tests is, in a sense, even more critical than rejecting the Common Core standards because the test is the only thing that actually enforces the standards…Within five years of their launch, Common Core’s mediocre academic standards are in shambles.”

Where They Went Wrong: Evers and Wurman conflate Massachusetts’ decision to develop an independent assessment as a signal that states are moving away from Common Core State Standards. That is simply not true. “We have not abandoned either one,” Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said in a statement last week, referring to PARCC and Common Core. “Educators have been teaching curricula aligned with the Common Core for several years, and…teachers will continue to do so and to build on the standards.” In a letter to the New York Times, Chester put to rest speculation that the state is moving back. In actuality, most states continue to refine and build on the Common Core. As Louisiana State Superintendent John White explained earlier this year, “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline…and that is a fantastic success.”


On Our Reading List:

Hechinger Report, “Same Standards, Different Tests”: Most states that initially adopted Common Core Standards continue to implement them, though many are using independent assessments to determine student mastery. “So even though, in theory, students in Connecticut, Wisconsin and Arizona are all learning the same thing, they’ll be measured differently.” The article compares six state tests. One of the chief differences is the adaptability of PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests, which provide a more comprehensive look at student understanding. Many people think that “whenever you see something that looks odd, it’s because of the Common Core, but that’s just not true,” says Phil Daro, a chief writer of the Common Core Math Standards. “Standards can differ in ways that don’t manifest in different items on a test.”

Associated Press, “New York Seeks Feedback on Common Core Learning Standards”: A statewide public input period, in which individuals can review and submit feedback about New York’s Common Core standards, closes today. The State Department of Education launched the AIMHighNY survey earlier this fall as part of a review ordered by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and will help to inform possible changes to the state’s academic expectations. The survey is available here.

Associated Press, “DC to Reveal Results of New Common Core-Aligned Tests”: On Monday, District of Columbia education officials will release the results from the first tests aligned to Common Core State Standards, which were administered this spring. Initial scores show only about 10 percent of students met proficiency benchmarks in Geometry, and about a quarter of students met proficiency targets in English. The results also show a large achievement gap between students of color and their white peers, the article reports.