News You Can Use:

CNN, “Jeb Bush Courts Hispanic Evangelicals in Texas”: On Wednesday, former Gov. Jeb Bush spoke to the NHCLC about faith and education issues. “You can move the needle – you can change the lives of thousands and thousands of families if you have the courage to have school choice, robust accountability, higher standards and focus on early childhood literacy,” Gov. Bush saidBloomberg Politics reports. “Don’t believe that this is an impossible task.” Ahead of the event, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez wrote in an op-ed published by USA Today, “Our faith requires us to honor the imago dei in every person, enabling each to fulfill the potential God has given them. This holds true for students as much as adults, which is why I support non-federal high education standards which can be compared across states… While everyone seems engulfed in a debate over the semantics of the term Common Core, we need a common sense solution to address the educational disparity in America.”

What It Means: Setting high, consistent academic expectations for students regardless of race, religion, or zip code is an important step to creating greater educational justice, as Rev. Rodriguez points out. In states that adopted Common Core State Standards early, like Kentucky and Tennessee, those impacts are being seen; college-readiness rates have steadily increased over the past three years and gaps in student achievement have narrowed. Public leaders who demonstrate the conviction to support these kinds of improvements through rigorous education standards and increased accountability will do well with voters because, as the Collaborative’s Karen Nussle points out, the public fundamentally supports high, comparable education standards.

Hechinger Report, “Stakes for ‘High-Stakes’ Tests Are Actually Pretty Low”: Despite concerns that new assessments are stressing out students and teachers, few “will be much affected by the result of this spring’s Common Core-aligned tests,” the article reports. A Hechinger Report poll found that “very few states will be using this spring’s scores for any student-related decisions. And the stakes for teachers are only slightly higher.” Only three states will use test scores as some portion of a graduation requirement (OH, FL, WA) and only three will use this spring’s Common Core-aligned exams to regulate grade promotion (FL, MI, WI). For teachers, it’s a slightly different story, the article says. Thirty-four states plan to use test scores for some portion of teacher evaluation this year or in the future. But only 13 will use this spring’s scores, and most will be to set a baseline.

What It Means: Student assessments are an important tool for educators. But, as the article points out, calling new exams that test to more challenging content “high stakes” misrepresents their purpose. In fact, states are looking to the new exams to provide a better measure of student development and to hold schools accountable. They will provide more constructive, timely feedback so schools can ultimately devote less time to testing and test prep. A Teach Plus study found nearly eight in 10 teacher participants said new PARCC exams are better than those their state used before.

US News & World Report, “Power to the Teachers”: Despite claims that Common Core State Standards implementation has been a “disaster,” in many areas the transition has been seamless and has helped to empower educators, writes Center for American Progress’ Carmel Martin. A new CAP report indicates that successful districts recognized that teachers are integral to implementing the standards and treated educators as partners in implementation. “Empowering teachers to lead Common Core implementation wasn’t the easiest path for these districts,” Martin writes. “But in the districts studied, the time invested paid off in the form of a sustainable and effective implementation process.” Why? “These arrangements fostered trust between teachers and administrators… and teachers experienced a greater level of buy-in.” “The goal of the Common Core State Standards is to prepare every child for college or a career. Though state leaders developed these standards, many have characterized the reform as ‘top-down,’” Martin concludes. “Our research reveals that regardless of how the standards came to be embraced, a ‘bottom-up’ approach to implementing them can yield significant dividends for students.”

What It Means: Contrary to claims that the Common Core was forced on states and school districts, the CAP report shows that areas that have been most successful have gotten buy-in from their teachers and had them lead the trannsition. In states across the country, teachers continue to strongly support Common Core State Standards. A Scholastic study last fall found more than eight in 10 educators who worked closely with the Standards support implementation, and more than two-thirds said they saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Chalkbeat Colorado, “A Few Common Sense Reasons Not to Opt Out of Tests”: Comparing new student assessments to the excitement and anxiety of starting a new job or moving, Troy Rivera, a high-school English teacher in Greeley, encourages parents not to opt students out of state tests. “How do you effectively measure your child’s success against students across the nation and know if the school is meeting your expectations? With tests,” the Rivera argues. “A student is more than a score…But we will never know if a student is being challenged enough if we opt out of participation in the state assessment.” Noting that concerns about over-testing are justified, Rivera adds, “But opting out from participating in an assessment that needs all the feedback it can get is not the best way to solve some of the real problems surrounding testing. Opting out from an assessment that helps to show if a school is meeting expectations and providing a quality education is not the best decision.”

What It Means: Rivera stresses what most teachers have been saying: that despite concerns about over-testing, opting out of assessments puts students at a disadvantage and erodes educators’ ability to address learning needs. New exams designed to test to the higher content of CCSS provide teachers an honest evaluation of students’ preparedness to succeed at higher levels of learning. Unlike previous exams, they provide a more comprehensive analysis of student understanding so teachers can address needs before they become problematic. A Teach Plus study found nearly eight in 10 teacher participants said new PARCC exams are better than those their state used before.


Correcting the Record:

Fordham Institute’s EduWatch 2016,  “Ted Cruz Quotes about Education”: The Fordham Institute’s latest presidential tracker takes a look at Sen. Ted Cruz’ positions on several education issues, including Common Core. Sen. Cruz has been a vocal opponent of the standards: “We should repeal every word of Common Core,” he said in March. “Education is far too important to have it governed by unelected bureaucrats down in Washington….The federal government has no authority to do things like set the curriculum in education. That needs to be at the state level or, even better, at the local level.” Sen. Cruz has conflated Common Core Standards with curriculum, and has argued, “If [curriculum is controlled] at the local level, you can go to the [local] school board meeting, and if the curriculum being taught to your kids doesn’t make sense, you can make your voice heard, you can speak out and say, ‘This isn’t right.’ Every one of us should have control over what’s being taught to our kids.”

Where They Went Wrong: Consistently playing off of parental concerns, Sen. Cruz has pitched Common Core State Standards as a federal curriculum and a big government takeover of local education. Such characterizations are flat-out wrong, and Sen. Cruz knows better. The standards (which are not a curriculum, but a set of academic benchmarks) were developed by state experts and educators under the leadership of the National Governor Association. Further, because the federal government has no authority to dictate state academic standards, the Common Core State Standards are not something that can be “repealed,” as Cruz argues. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states that initially adopted the Common Core State Standards continue to use them. As Karen Nussle pointed out, one reason the standards are so resilient is that the public fundamentally supports rigorous education standards and increased accountability.


On Our Reading List:

Wall Street Journal, “In Statewide Student Tests, What’s a Good Score?”: PARCC cut scores, or what qualifies as a good score, have not yet been set, and it will be tricky, some say, to get states participating in the consortia to agree on where to set it, the article reports. Creating a common yardstick “will be a big challenge…and a huge moment for our country,” said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents the top education officials in every state. “It will be a lot of different political persuasions trying to come together.”