News You Can Use:

Washington Post, “How to Help Your Kids at School — Even If You Don’t Understand What They Are Doing”: In a joint effort with a number of other national organizations, National PTA President Laura Bay announced the re-launch of as part of a “public service partnership designed to support parents” at “back to school and throughout the school year.” Writing in the Washington Post, Bay, a Washington state educator, says the site “takes a practical stance” and looks to provide “simple, actionable steps” that all parents can use. Bay closes by addressing parents’ anxieties that even “if we don’t remember the Pythagorean theorem” or haven’t read certain books or authors recently, parents can “still help our children succeed by understanding their learning goals [and] monitoring their progress.”

What It Means: Parents can turn to for practical advice for how best to support children while ensuring they are achieving academic milestones. Under the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, students focus on developing critical- and analytical-thinking skills while learning how to present their ideas, arguments and discussions beyond surface-level opinions and rote memorization. Through, students’ homework doesn’t have to look so intimidating and parents can be assured they are taking smart steps to support their children.

Capitol Confidential, “ICYMI: Read the State Test Questions for Third Through Eighth Graders”: In advance of test results being released Wednesday, New York State education officials released the “ELA and math test questions” that students in grades three through eight took in the spring. Students across 700 school districts were tested while 165,000 students opted out, according to the New York Times. PDFs of the questions, “including the answers and the percentage of students who answered them correctly”, can be found here. “Since the introduction of the most accurate assessments in the nation aligned with college and career ready standards, test scores have been improving,” High Achievement New York Executive Director Steven Sigmund said in a statement over the weekend. “We look forward to the release of this year’s results, but it’s important to remember that these scores are just one snapshot of the overall picture. … The New York State Learning Standards are paying off with a shrinking achievement gap for minority students, rising graduation rates and most importantly deeper learning in the classroom – ultimately leading to better opportunities for all of the State’s children, no matter where they come from.”

What It Means: New York’s assessments have become more difficult over the last few years as the tests become more aligned with the state’s Learning Standards. The Empire State is a leader in raising expectations and, as High Achievement New York noted, closing gaps in achievement that separate students of color from their white peers. Closely aligning academic measuring tools with statewide benchmarks creates a more complete educational foundation to ensure success after high school. It is also important to note that schools, educators and parents have a number of tools with which to gauge students’ academic progress, and the new tests are just one measure.

CBS/St. Louis, “Common Core Test Results Are In”: Missouri students “appear to be doing better in several subjects,” based on the newly released test scores. The Common Core State Standards, which have the subject of heated opposition in the state, were “fully implemented” last school year. Education Commissioner Dr. Margie Vandeven said the tests “are only one way of measuring student learning” but officials are “encouraged” by the results. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education noted that the results showed “improved performance” in all grades for language arts.

What It Means: Despite the political turmoil that changed tests and benchmarks, and created classroom chaos (see below), a majority of Missouri’s students met or exceeded proficiency benchmarks on assessments that tested them on what they learned, not just what they memorized. While Missouri’s test scores aren’t immediately comparable to tests given in years past, a greater number of students met or exceed proficient than on the Smarted Balanced field test. Teachers, caught between warring factions on the best path forward for schools, should be commended for their professionalism and for creating a positive learning environment. The results show the promise of the Common Core – better preparing students for life after high school by emphasizing critical- and analytical-thinking skills – can be realized when educators and students are given the tools they need to succeed.


Correcting the Record:

The Kansas City Star, “As Missouri Releases Results of Standardized Tests, Comparisons Are Difficult To Make”: Missouri released the results of the 2015 assessments, which “showed students performed well in language, arts and math.” On average, 60 percent of elementary and middle school students rated “proficient or advanced” in language arts with about 40 percent scoring that well in math.  But, “you really cannot make a comparison between these results and last year’s results,” said Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven, because the assessments that students will take next spring will be new tests with a new way of reporting results. The article states that comparisons won’t be possible until “after the spring of 2017 when new Missouri learning standards are established.”

Where They Went Wrong: The chaos and upheaval surrounding Missouri’s educational system means that students will take four different state assessments over four years. It is simply impossible to accurately gauge students’ learning progress, identify their strengths and weaknesses, or compare from year-to-year the rate of increase or decline in scores. Despite the tumultuous political climate, a greater number of Missouri’s students met or exceeded proficient on their state exam than on the field test (see above). Unfortunately, scores from this year’s test will not be comparable to scores next year – because the test will change again. Students deserve better than chaos that will hang over Missouri’s academic environment for years to come.


On Our Reading List:

WSHU (Connecticut), “U.S. Education Secretary Discusses ‘Opt-Out,’ Achievement Gap”: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan discussed “some of the biggest education concerns in Connecticut and New York,” noting that “education has to be the ticket to the middle class” and stressed the importance of testing. The “vast majority” of testing comes from state and local levels, not the federal government, but Duncan said that he does “think it’s important for kids to be tested annually” so stakeholders can have a “conversation based on facts, and not just based on opinion” with “honest data on student performance.”

Las Vegas Sun, Nevada Picks New Vendor After Common Core Testing Debacle”: Nevada officials awarded a $51 million, four-year contract to a new testing company “after a debacle halted the mandatory online exams.” California-based CTB/McGraw-Hill won the contract, prevailing over 10 other bids. Nevada was using New Hampshire-based Measured Progress “but the relationship soured” when a “widespread computer system outage crippled testing and derailed what was supposed to be a major shift in standardized testing.” Only about one-third of Nevada’s students completed the tests this spring, which “raised an unprecedented issue with student participation” given the federal provision that “at least 95 percent of all students” must be tested.

New Orleans Times-Picayune, “Chas Roemer Re-election Decision Could Alter Louisiana Education”: Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education President Chas Roemer “has been a strong voice for … Common Core [and] Education Superintendent John White,” which has put him “at odds” with Gov. Bobby Jindal and a “small but fierce” group of Common Core opponents. He likely will not decide whether to run for re-election “until it’s time to qualify for the Oct. 24 ballot.”