COMMON CORE STANDARDS DAILY UPDATE, SEPTEMBER 17, 2015

News You Can Use:

Collaborative for Student Success, “Buckeye State Report Raises Questions for Parents”: This week, Ohio became the first state to release results from PARCC tests, which showed fewer students met proficiency benchmarks than on past tests. “What parents should pay attention to is the percentage of students determined by the state to be proficient,” Karen Nussle explains in a memo released Wednesday. “Proficiency as defined by the Ohio State Board of Education is inconsistent with how proficiency is defined by both the [PARCC] and [NAEP]. This discrepancy should give pause to parents, community leaders and policymakers who expect transparency in Ohio’s transition to higher standards.” A significantly smaller percentage of students qualified as proficient against PARCC and NAEP benchmarks compared to those set by the state. “The discrepancy suggests that Ohio has set the proficiency bar too low and undermines the promise of ensuring kids are on track for college and career… By expanding the definition of proficiency to include students that are less-than-proficient, it appears the state is regressing,” the memo notes. “There has been no explanation as to why this decision was made, but we can speculate that it was so more students would score ‘proficient’ on paper, and not because they truly earned that designation. We encourage Ohioans to ask these questions.”

What It Means: States, including Ohio, implemented challenging education standards and high-quality assessments for the purpose of holding students to classroom expectations that fully prepare them for college or a career, and giving parents honest information about their progress towards reaching those goals. As Nussle explains, expanding the definition of proficiency undermines those efforts, painting a rosier picture of student preparedness than is actually the case. By doing so, Ohio risks reopening its Honesty Gap and failing to provide parents with accurate information.

Detroit News, “Stay the Course on Rigorous K-12 Standards”: Like most across the country, Michigan schools have a “preparation gap” that leads to high levels of college remediation and puts students at a “steep” disadvantage, write former Michigan Gov. John Engler and Daniel Hurley, CEO of the Presidents Council, State Universities of Michigan. Thirty-five percent of freshmen college students in Michigan require remedial coursework. “Michigan educators have been working to address this problem by introducing more challenging academic standards in elementary, middle and high school – standards that are aligned with the expectations students will face when they enter college and the job market,” the authors say. “Michigan’s employers and its colleges and universities overwhelmingly support these efforts.” This fall, parents will get results from new assessments aligned to the state’s Common Core standards. “The assessment asks students to demonstrate and apply their knowledge and skills such as critical thinking, analytical writing and problem solving…Any change in test scores simply reflects the higher standards our schools have been aiming for.” The authors conclude, “Improving students’ performance through higher standards is a far better approach than creating a false sense of accomplishment through higher test scores derived from weak academic standards. It is vital that parents, the public and policymakers understand this.”

What It Means: By measuring students against high, consistent education standards, states like Michigan are providing parents and educators with accurate information about how well their children are developing the skills and knowledge needed to succeed at high levels of learning, and ultimately in college or a career. As Gov. Engler and Mr. Hurley point out, parents are finally getting an honest evaluation of their child’s readiness. As Karen Nussle explained in a memo this month, “states are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do in college or a career,” and “for parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.”

Springfield Republican, “Business Alliance Touts PARCC over MCAS Test as Best Measure of College, Career Readiness”: Adoption of PARCC tests to replace the MCAS exam is in the best interest of students, teachers, parents and employers, officials of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education said Wednesday. Linda Noonan, president of the Alliance, said the MCAS test doesn’t effectively measure students’ critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which are necessary to success in college and the workforce. The Massachusetts Board of Education will vote in November whether to replace MCAS with PARCC. “It’s an honesty issue,” Lyndsay Sobel, director of Teach Plus, said of exams that inflate proficiency measures. “We owe it to [students] to provide them what they need to succeed.” Linda Prystupa, chairwoman of Springfield Technical Community College, agreed PARCC tests would help more students avoid having to take remedial coursework.

What It Means: High-quality assessments are necessary to provide parents and teachers with honest information about how well their children are developing the skills they need to succeed in college or a career. The Honesty Gap analysis made clear that for a long time state instead inflated readiness measures, painting a misleading picture of how well prepared students were. For the first time this spring most states administered tests aligned to college- and career-ready expectations. As Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli wrote this month, “parents shouldn’t shoot the messenger.” For the first time they are getting honest information, and they “should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or associated tests.”

Washington Post, “Five Reasons Parents Should Embrace Common Core Tests”: Karen Quinn, a mother, author and cofounder of testingmom.com, writes that despite some valid concerns about over-testing, she would have her kids take assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards. Quinn says familiarity with standardized tests is important for students since they will have to take them throughout their educational career. More importantly, Quinn says, the tests reveal how well students are developing the skills they need. “This is your chance to dig in and figure out what is behind your child’s test performance and provide support,” the piece explains. Quinn adds that assessments aligned to Common Core Standards are worth taking. “To get ready for this test, kids are learning how to cite evidence from primary or secondary sources to support their point of view and show why they believe their analysis in essays is correct. They are taught to lay out the reasoning behind their answer to math questions. These are important thinking and communication skills that will serve our kids for school and for life. They are not just skills that apply to taking a test.”

What It Means: Quinn makes a strong case that high-quality assessments provide parents and teachers with information necessary to support student learning. Exams that measure students against college- and career-ready expectations provide better insight about how well children are for high levels of learning and ultimately to graduate fully prepared for college or a career. A Teach Plus study this year found nearly 80 percent of teacher participants believe assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards are better than those their states used before. As states release results from the first year of new assessments, parents are finally getting honest information about how well prepared their child is, and they should refuse efforts that would have them turn back on that transition.

Achieving Tomorrow, “Preparing the Students of Today for the Business of Tomorrow”: A new website hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce articulates the importance of Common Core State Standards to prepare students with “the skills needed to carry forward America’s rich history of exploration and innovation.” Highlighting the facts that 5 million jobs go unfilled because of a lack of qualified candidates and 60 percent of first-year college students require remediation in English or math, the site debunks popular misconceptions about the Common Core. “Business owners depend on their employees to be problem solvers, effective communicators, and collaborators. However, too many students are graduating high school without even the most basic skills such as how to manage money or write clearly,” a blog entry on the site reads. “Higher academic standards like the Common Core State Standards provide consistent, high goals for students in math and English language arts.”

What It Means: As the debate over Common Core State Standards has escalated, many myths and lots of misinformation have been touted as fact. Achieving Tomorrow’s website provides parents, students, teachers and voters with accurate information about what the standards are, what they mean for classrooms, and how they will affect the preparedness of public school students. As the site states, “It is vitally important that we – as business leaders, employers, and parents – speak out loud and clear that we have a role to play in helping students gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in an increasingly demanding and competitive workplace.”


 

Correcting the Record:

Patriot News, “Opponents of PARCC Testing Say It Will Lower Standards in Massachusetts”: In an editorial meeting, Jamie Gass, director of the Pioneer Institute’s Center for School Reform, and former State Senate President Thomas Birmingham argued Massachusetts officials should withdraw from the PARCC consortia and repeal the state’s Common Core standards. “With PARCC, we’re sitting at a table with New Mexico and we lose control over our academic standards,” Gass added. “Under MCAS, we own the table.” The men said the use of PARCC tests could lead to “bigger remediation in the future for Massachusetts.”

Where They Went Wrong: Even while Massachusetts had among the highest education standards in the country, it voluntarily adopted the Common Core because of both the standards’ rigor and the ability they afford to measure classroom success to counterparts in other states and districts. Likewise, PARCC exams are an important tool to more accurately measure student progress and ensure teachers have the information they need to fully prepare students. Massachusetts business and community leaders explain that is important to ensure more students graduate high school prepared for college or a career, and 72 percent of teachers within the state say PARCC exams do a better job of accurately measuring student readiness than those Massachusetts used before.


 

On Our Reading List:

Times Picayune, “Gov. Bobby Jindal Loses Federal Common Core Lawsuit”: A federal judge in Baton Rouge rejected Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s lawsuit that sought to block implementation of the Common Core State Standards. In the decision, U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick expressly noted that the Common Core is not a curriculum and states were not forced to adopt the standards. Gov. Jindal filed the lawsuit in August, 2014, against the U.S. Department of Education, accusing the agency of manipulating federal funds and policy waivers to pressure states into adopting the Common Core. “The alleged injuries that Jindal anticipates, should the state discontinue its use of the (Common Core), appear to be purely speculative considering similar actions taken by other states that have not suffered the anticipated consequences,” Dick wrote in the ruling. “The evidence supports the finding that participation in both (the grant and waiver) programs is completely voluntary and not unconstitutionally coercive.” An attorney for Gov. Jindal said he plans to appeal the decision.

New York Times, “New York Will Trim Common Core Exams after Many Students Skipped Them”: New York Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Wednesday at a Board of Regents meeting the state will shorten standardized tests aligned to the state’s Common Core standards. A spokesperson said the tests will have fewer math questions and a number of passages will be cut from the reading portion next year, and that the exams will be further shortened in 2017. The decision marks the second time the test have been shortened since their introduction in 2013. Previously, state officials announced two separate reviews of New York’s education standards and student assessments, one being led by Elia and the other ordered by Gov. Cuomo.

Education Week, “Common Core Test Results: The Moment of Truth Arrives”: New assessments that measure all students against college- and career-readiness levels do away with old models based on a bell curve, which left many students unequipped with the skills they need to succeed after high school, writes columnist Marc Tucker. “The all-important issue now is how the states use the new tests,” Tucker adds. “The years in which the bell curve will work for us are over…We will have to set a high standard of achievement for our students and make sure they get to it…That won’t happen until the states decide that all their students have to be proficient, that less than proficient is a failing grade.”

Sarasota Herald Tribune, “Scores for New Florida School Test Are Released”: Two panels of Florida educators released their first grading recommendations, or cut scores, for the Florida Standards Assessment on Wednesday. The test will be graded on a 1 to 5 scale, similar to the state’s previous standardized tests. A score of 3 will be considered proficient. The article notes fewer students are expected to achieve top scores on the FSA because of its increased rigor. Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has yet to make her suggestions for the cut scores.