News You Can Use:

Charleston Gazette Mail, “Focus on the Long-Term Gain in Test Scores”: Mike Funkhouser, West Virginia’s 2013 Teacher of the Year, writes that upcoming results from new assessments should be used to inform instruction and support students, not undercut the progress made under Common Core State Standards. “For the first time, we have a test that is aligned with what students are learning so that we are asking them to prove what they know, rather than determining what they do not know,” Funkhouser says. “The worst thing we could do would be to have a knee-jerk reaction to the new scores by comparing them to the old ones. In simple math terms, that’s comparing apples to oranges.” Noting that old assessments enabled many states to overstate proficiency rates, Funkhouser says the Smarter Balanced exams measure what students really need to know and do at each grade to graduate college- and career-ready. “The Common Core and the Smarter Balanced tests are raising the bar on our expectations for students…These are tests worth taking.”

What It Means: New high-quality assessments administered in most states for the first time this year better that ensure students are held to levels that prepare them for college and career, and provide more constructive information for parents and teachers. As Funkhouser points out, the new exams help parents make sure their child is on a path to succeed at higher levels of learning and identify areas where their child is falling short. While opponents will try to conflate the results as “lower,” they set a new baseline, which is necessary to provide an accurate measure of student proficiency – a fact the Honesty Gap analysis made clear.

Alliance for Excellent Education, “Core of the Matter: Thoughts from a Louisiana Student”: Myles McMurchy, a recent graduate of Louisiana Public Schools, writes that despite taking the most rigorous courses in high school and graduating with a 4.0 GPA, he realized he was not fully prepared for college when he arrived at Dartmouth College in 2012. “My peers had taken more advanced courses and been held to higher expectation in high school than me,” McMurchy says. “Louisiana’s standard for reaching the proficient level on its state test in eighth-grade math does not even meet the NAEP standard for a ‘basic’ score. Yet in New York, students are held to a standard of proficiency that is nearly fifty points greater than Louisiana’s.” For that reason, McMurchy supports Common Core State Standards, which ensure all students are held at least to a level prepares them for college and career. “Why aren’t we having conversations about the Common Core’s ability to close this achievement gap?” the piece asks. “I believe it is largely due to the way the Common Core has been misrepresented by politicians and media…If our governor argues one thing yet our local school district says otherwise, then what are parents to believe?…We need to have real conversations about how the Common Core can make schools more equitable by institutionalizing the belief that all students are capable of success.”

What It Means: McMurchy’s experience demonstrates the impact that states’ old patchwork of academic expectations had on students. Because of large discrepancies between standards in states and even school districts, many students have found themselves at a disadvantage when they got to college or the workforce based on where they attended school. Common Core State Standards set high, consistent benchmarks for all students to ensure they are held to levels that fully prepare them for college and career. As the Honesty Gap analysis found, by adopting the Common Core and high-quality assessments, states are providing parents and teachers with better information, which is the first step to improving classroom outcomes. Early adopter states like Kentucky and Tennessee have made some of the biggest academic gains in the country since adopting high standards.

Go Local Providence, “Helping Families Adapt to Common Core Math”: Audra McPhillips, a math specialist and coach in Rhode Island, writes that schools are providing support to teachers and parents to help them understand classroom changes during the transition to Common Core State Standards. “Math concepts [used to be] taught as a checklist of isolated topics,” McPhillips says. “By contrast, the CCSS include a focus on three or four major concepts each year. This allows teachers and students to focus deeply on these areas in order to develop understanding and make meaningful connections between concepts.” By building a strong foundation, teachers and students can avoid repeating material and focus on a logical progression of learning. McPhillips says educators have incorporated engaging ways for students grasp concepts and develop deeper understanding of math functions. “We need to do a better job of supporting parents and teachers with these important shifts,” the piece concludes. “When we strengthen that partnership between school and home, it is the students who benefit.”

What It Means: School districts across the country are providing teachers, parents and students with support to help transition to the more rigorous expectations posited by Common Core State Standards. As McPhillips points out, the Common Core establishes a logical progression of learning to help students develop a deeper conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. A Scholastic study last year found that more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. By implementing these changes, schools are setting students on a path that better ensures they will graduate high school with the skills and knowledge to succeed in college or a career.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Ask GOP Candidates about Common Core – and US Competitiveness”: Lou Gerstner, retired chairman and CEO of IBM, writes that improving K-12 student outcomes is critical to addressing job creation, income inequality and creating a strong middle class. “So the question for candidates is this: Do you support Common Core State Standards or not?” Gerstner says. “Before you answer, let’s get a few facts straight: The Common Core State Standards were created by governors. They were not written, approved of or mandated by the federal government… The Common Core Standards do not dictate curriculum or testing regimes. These remain the responsibility of local school boards and superintendents.” The piece notes that comparable learning goals are important for families that move often and better ensure businesses will have talented candidates to fill growth needs. “I cannot understand why this common-sense issue has become such a political football, and I am deeply frustrated by the misinformation surrounding Common Core,” Gerstner says. “Some [presidential candidates] have since reversed themselves and come out against the standards…This issue is too important to be perverted by politics. The American people need and deserve a president with the courage to stand by his or her convictions and not retreat back to mediocrity.”

What It Means: Common Core State Standards set rigorous learning goals that ensure more students will graduate high school fully prepared for college-level work or a career. That important considering a recent Achieve analysis found 62 percent of employers and nearly 80 percent of college professors feel K-12 schools are not doing enough to adequately prepare students for college or the workforce. While the Common Core may be a rallying cry for a sliver of conservatives, the public fundamentally supports academic expectations that prepare students for college and career. As a result, for policymakers who are able to articulate the value of high education standards, the Common Core may be a political asset.


Correcting the Record:

West Virginia Metro News, “Cole, Armstead File Letter Against Common Core”: State Senate President Bill Cole and House Speaker Tim Armstead sent a letter to the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers this week revoking a 2009 agreement between West Virginia and the NGA regarding development of Common Core State Standards. “This letter represents a symbol of the commitment that we have in the Legislature to repeal these Common Core Standards and to eliminate the Smarter Balanced testing for our students once and for all,” Sen. Cole said. “We must find a way to improve our student achievement and fix our education system, and the way to begin that progress is to eliminate Common Core in West Virginia.” The agreement in question was signed six years ago by the then State Senate President, then Speaker of the House, former Gov. Joe Manchin and the former State Superintendent. This year State Superintendent Michael Martirano launched a website to collect input from parents, teachers and community members on the state’s Common Core Standards.

Where They Went Wrong: The call to repeal West Virginia’s Common Core-aligned education standards creates uncertainty in classrooms and threatens to put the state’s students at a disadvantage by returning to inferior standards and assessments. As the article notes, the State Superintendent launched a review process earlier this year to collect public input, which will be used to strengthen the state’s Common Core Standards. By seeking repeal, state leaders risk undoing the investments that teachers and students have made preparing for the more rigorous learning goals. Evidence suggests the Common Core is working. Early adopter states like Kentucky and Tennessee have experienced some of the biggest academic gains in the country, and more than two-thirds of teachers who have worked closely with the Common Core have seen an improvement in students’ critical thinking and analytical skills, according to a Scholastic study last year.


On Our Reading List:

Associated Press, “Washington State Board of Education to Set Bar for Common Core Tests”: The Washington Board of Education will decide today how well high-school students need to do to earn passing grades on new PARCC assessments. The exams were administered for the first time this spring. The state experienced a large number of opt-outs, so state officials are using alternative methods to figure out what score means students are proficient, the article reports.

Fox News, “Candidate Line-Up for Prime-Time Debate Announced”: On Tuesday, Fox News put out the list of participants for the first Republican primary debate, which will be held Thursday night. The line-up includes: Donald Trump, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. Missing the cut but invited to participate in an earlier forum were Rick Perry, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Jim Gilmore and George Pataki.

Fox News 28 New York, “Changes to New York’s Common Core to Involve More Teacher Input”: Following the announcement the state will switch testing providers, New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said her department will seek more input from teachers to improve on assessments. “This is going to give us the opportunity to look at things like online testing and how we then can use that to turn around the results in a more efficient and effective way for teachers,” Elia said.