News You Can Use:

Educators for High Standards, “Demystifying the Legislative Process for Teachers: Stories from the Classroom”: In a series of stories written by teachers for teachers, educators share their experiences engaging lawmakers on the issue of high education standards and encourage others to speak up. “Would you invite a legislator into your classroom? I did – and I would do it again,” writes Beth Maloney, an Arizona elementary teacher. “[The] legislators said they valued input from their constituents, especially personal meetings,” Barbara Gottschalk, a Michigan teacher who invited lawmakers into her classroom, adds. “By being willing to present my perspective as a teacher and evidence to support it, I was able to quickly establish myself as an agent of change,” writes Mick Wiest, the 2014 Wyoming Teacher of the Year. “I’d recommend that all teachers take the chance and reach out to their legislators.” Today, the Educators for High Standards coalition will host a webinar to help teachers learn about how to engage lawmakers about the importance of rigorous standards and high-quality assessments. Registration information is available here.

What It Means: In the public discussion over Common Core State Standards and high-quality assessments, rhetoric and politicization have largely drowned out the voice of those most directly responsible for student outcomes: teachers. As more and more educators are seeing their investment in the Common Core having an impact in the classroom they are standing up to support the Standards. Today’s webinar will provide information to help them better make their experience heard.

Monterey Herald, “Common Core Support in California Widespread”: An EMC Research study commissioned by Children Now finds 67% of California residents support education standards “that establish reliable and consistent learning goals” in math and English. “Folks realize that old standards, the bubble tests, were really outdated and the public gets it,” said Ted Lempert, president of Children Now. “The poll tells me that the Common Core brand has been damaged with the national discussion…it makes me wonder what all this debate is about.” Additionally, the study indicates that 93% of participants believe “promoting critical thinking” is important, and 88% say it’s important to measure “the ability of students to describe and demonstrate how they solve problems.” “[Common Core is] a whole different way of solving problems and how you get to the end results,” said Sandra Garcia, a member of a California school board. “Overall it makes sense that you can explain an answer and how you get there.” A separate study by the Public Policy Institute of California found most parents had not received much information about Common Core State Standards or new tests. Fifty-five percent of parents said they knew nothing about the state’s Smarter Balanced assessments, and 62% said they had received little information about the Standards.

What It Means: The studies reaffirm that the public fundamentally supports rigorous academic standards and high-quality assessments, but that schools still need to fill an information gap to better inform parents about the transition to the Common Core. As experts like former Sec. Bill Bennett have pointed out, unfamiliarity with the Standards have opened the door to criticism from opponents, whose attacks have damaged public perceptions of Common Core as a brand.

Chalkbeat Colorado, “Ex-Governors Have Hick’s Back, Defend Standards and Testing”: Former Colorado Governors Roy Romer and Bill Owens joined Gov. John Hickenlooper yesterday to defend the state’s commitment to high education standards and meaningful assessments. “Romer and Owens didn’t mince words on touchy issues that included opting out and continuation of 9th grade testing,” the article reports, “they oppose the former and support the latter.” “I’m opposed to opting out of tests,” Gov. Owens said. Gov. Romer added, “Why would anybody opt out? … To opt out is harmful to the system.” Of criticism of the state’s standards, Gov. Owens noted, “That system is under attack…this is stunning to me.” Three testing bills are pending on Colorado’s legislative calendar, and may be heard today.

What It Means: Govs. Romer and Owens’ support for rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments underscores the bipartisan nature of efforts to improve student outcomes. By setting high academic expectations and holding them accountable through assessments that accurately measure student development, Common Core State Standards and related tests ensure more students will graduate high school prepared for college or a career.

Our Kids, Our Future, “Common Core Pioneer: Linda Estes”: Using Common Core State Standards, Linda Estes, a high school teacher in Washington, is teaching beyond “math-as-usual.” “I believe the problem is the way we teach math, not that math is intrinsically hard to learn,” Estes says. “I saw very quickly that standing up and lecturing didn’t work – or only worked for 10 percent of the students.” Delta High School, which is implementing Common Core, consistently passes math end-of-year exams at a rate 20-30 percent higher than the state average, the article reports. “It’s not enough to get the right answer in her class. You have to be able to explain it and apply the math concept in new situations,” explains principal Jenny Rodriquez. “Here class is both rigorous and relevant, and students really appreciate her approach, which ensures they truly understand the math at hand.” “She makes me think through the whole process instead of just thinking of an answer,” one student says. “It’s fun in her class, which is not something you usually find in math classes,” adds another. “You’re actively taking part in your own learning.”

What It Means: Ms. Estes’ example demonstrates the ability of high standards, coupled with effective teaching, to unlock student potential. In states across the country, teachers are finding similar ways to use Common Core Standards to invigorate and develop student understanding. A Scholastic study last year found more than eight in 10 teachers who have worked closely with Common Core support implementation, and more than two-thirds report an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.


Correcting the Record:

New York Post, “Anti-Common Core Activists Leak State’s English Exam Online”: Sections of New York’s student assessments were leaked on Facebook yesterday “in an apparent act of sabotage by anti-testing activists.” More than three dozen pictures of the state exams were uploaded with criticism of the assessments, designed to test to content emphasized by the Common Core State Standards. The leak will mean portions of the test will have to be rewritten next year, the article reports. “This is a political act and it will be interesting to see whether Pearson or the state Department of Education understands it as that goes after them for civil or criminal liability,” said David Bloomfield, a Brooklyn College professor. “The real consequence is additional taxpayer dollars and more class time on field tests to replace the exposed questions,” said a spokesperson for the New York Department of Education.

Where They Went Wrong: Efforts to subvert high-quality assessments ultimately cost taxpayers and put students at a disadvantage. Strong systems of accountability are an important tool to help parents and teachers measure student development and to identify and address learning needs. By seeking to undermine these efforts, opponents put students at risk and create greater uncertainty in classrooms.



On Our Reading List:

Newark Star-Ledger, “N.J. Schools with High PARCC Opt-Outs Could Have to Make Changes, Education Commissioner Says”: On Wednesday, New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe said schools that fail to have 95% of students participate in PARCC exams will be placed on a corrective action plan and schools with high opt-out rates could have state funding withheld. “We are going to do whatever is necessary to make sure we have a comfort level moving forward that we are going to hit 95 percent,” Hespe said. “This is not a no harm, no foul situation here.” Stemming from the federal requirement that 95% of all students must take a state’s exam, the first step of corrective actions could include requiring schools to hold more informational meetings or to schedule face-to-face meetings with parents who want to opt their children out of exams.

Chicago Business Journal, “Rauner Threatens Veto of School-Testing Bill”: Officials say Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner threatened to veto a bill awaiting House approval that would prevent state or local authorities from taking “negative action” against a teacher, parent, school or student for opting out of state assessments. The Governor’s Office cautioned lawmakers that the measure proposed by Rep. Will Guzzardi could cost the state $1 billion a year in federal funding. “While this administration understands concerns that parents, educators and lawmakers have about how students are evaluated, (Guzzardi’s bill) is the wrong vehicle through which to address these issues and has the potential to significantly disrupt the education of Illinois children,” a spokesperson for Gov. Rauner said.

NSC Research Center, “Snapshot Report: Persistence-Retention”: New research by the National Student Clearinghouse finds that the percentage of first-time college freshmen continuing into their sophomore year at any institution reached its highest point since 2010 with the 2013 freshman class. The one-point increase to 69.9% means 17,000 more students continued into their second year at the start of 2014.