News You Can Use:

Las Vegas Sun, “Common Core Standards Are Sorely Needed in Nevada”: President and CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce Kristin McMillan writes in an opinion piece that by “2020, nearly 60 percent of jobs in Nevada will require a post-secondary degree or credential” but “only 20 percent of adults in Nevada have one.” The 30-point “skills gap should alarm us,” writes McMillan. Nevada students “have historically underperformed” compared with their peers in other states, and the state has high remedial rates for first-year college/university students. A report issued through a partnership between the U.S. and Las Vegas Metro Chambers of Commerce noted that “Nevada’s previous standards were missing as much as 50 percent of content deemed essential by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.” The adoption of the Nevada Academic Content Standards has been “one of the most significant reforms” in the state’s K-12 education. McMillan wrote that it “has been difficult for businesses to find the skilled workforce they need” and the “standards are a good pathway for raising academic achievement to meet workforce demands.” The report can be found here.

What It Means: Nevada is not the only state suffering from a skills gap in which employers say they cannot find workers with the skills they need to perform job functions on day one. Many employers are looking elsewhere for skilled labor or paying to train people on skills they should have learned in school. The Common Core was designed so that when students graduate from high school, they are ready to immediately begin a career. The standards emphasize critical- and analytical-thinking skills as well as problem-solving and persuasive writing in order to prepare students for life after high school.

New York Times, “Opting Out of Standardized Tests Isn’t the Answer”: The New York Times editorial board writes that an alarming 200,000, or 20 percent, of school aged students in New York State opted out of this year’s assessments and that this “ill-conceived boycott could damage educational reform – desperately needed in poor and rural communities – and undermine the Common Core State Standards adopted by New York and many other states.” The authors recognize that there may be too much testing but argue that the math and reading tests that come once a year and measure whether the standards are working, are not the ones to eliminate. The piece ends by noting that, “With opt-out activists threatening to redouble their efforts next year, political leaders need to convince everyone involved — school boards, superintendents, principals, parents, state education officials, guidance counselors, and teachers and their unions — of the importance of these tests and find ways to help students and teachers meet the challenge they pose.”

What It Means: Because of higher academic standards coupled with new, high quality assessments, students in New York and across the country are increasingly focused on the things that matter most: critical thinking, problem solving, and writing. As a result, they are on track to becoming better prepared academically for life after high school. As the Collaborative’s recently launched interactive site shows, the consequences of opting out can be harmful to a student’s academic career. While these new assessments are just one measure of a student’s knowledge, they are an invaluable resource to parents and kids because they allow teachers to identify and correct problem areas early, before it’s too late.

Hechinger Report, “The Surprising Initial Results From a New Common Core Exam”: The results of Common Core-aligned standardized exams are coming in and, as authors Sarah Butrymowicz and Emmanuel Felton noted, “the news is good. Surprisingly good.” Students in 18 states took the Smarter Balanced test with Missouri and West Virginia releasing their scores, and Oregon and Washington releasing “preliminary information from the vast majority of districts.” According to the report, “All four states reported students exceeding expectations.” Joseph Martineau, a senior associate at the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment, said there “could be many reasons … including that students were more motivated to take this test more seriously, that these four states are among the higher performers and that students made genuine gains between last year and this year.” “I think it’s a combination of these things and we really can’t pull these things apart,” said Martineau, who served as the deputy superintendent in charge of testing at the Michigan Department of Education during the state’s transition to Smarter Balanced.

What It Means: New high-quality assessments administered in most states for the first time this year better ensure students are held to levels that prepare them for college- and career-readiness, and provide more constructive information for parents and teachers. While opponents will try to conflate the results as “lower,” the results are actually a new baseline for student readiness, which is necessary to provide an accurate measure of where students are academically – a fact that the Honesty Gap analysis made clear.

West Virginia Metro News, “State PTA President Urges Parental Involvement”: West Virginia PTA President Janelle Sperry urged parents to “get involved in their children’s education this upcoming year.” Through PTA- and school-hosted activities, parents can find useful resources and communicate directly with teachers and administrators to learn factual information about topics like the Common Core, Sperry said. “There’s much negativity that we hear about Common Core. I think many people believe it just means standardized testing, but there’s so much more to it than that. It’s basically a set of high quality academic standards. The standards are like learning goals that outline what every student should know and should be able to do at the end of each grade.”

What It Means: Parental involvement is a critical component of academic success, and the West Virginia’s PTA President is right to encourage parents to go right to the source with questions about their students’ education. Much of the opposition to the Common Core stems from opponents’ insistence on repeating half-truths and misinformation. The most basic fact of Common Core is that it is a set of academic standards that lay out “learning goals” – it is not curriculum, which is created by individual schools and districts. Research is bearing out that the longer students are exposed to the Common Core, the better their learning progress.


Correcting the Record:

Huffington Post, “Big Win for Opt-Out”: Hofstra University Social Studies professor Alan Singer praises the New York state opt-out movement, claiming it “may have already won.” About 200,000 students throughout New York – “quadruple the number of students opting out of the 2014 tests” – did not take the spring standardized assessments. The parent-led campaign “moved from the political margins and emerged as a full-scale social movement” that officials say drives “a wedge between suburban, urban, and rural parents” with the movement stemming from “middle-class White suburban parents.” Singer acknowledges that the movement began in the suburbs, but said that it was only because “those are the communities where parent organizations were already stronger and better organized.” Meanwhile, the high number of opt-outs means that the scores “are not reliable measures of student, teacher or school performance.”

Where They Went Wrong: Assessments without an accurate measure are wasted time, and it is unbelievable that anyone would celebrate having wasted students’ and educators’ time throughout the school year preparing students for the new tests, which were designed to provide more accurate and better feedback about students’ academic progress. Similar to the anti-vaccination movement that is based on myths and distorted truths and began in suburban enclaves, the threatened spread of the opt-out movement does1 students more harm than good.


On Our Reading List:

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, “Dept. of Wordgames”: The editorial board notes that the Common Core has “become a controversial name in American education, justifiably or not, and so is about to become Common Core by some other name.” The “substance” of the standards “remains a necessity,” the paper writes, and notes that without a common course of study for students, there won’t be any accurate way to measure or compare Arkansas students with their peers across the country. The editorial also notes that Gov. Hutchinson’s standards review council “recommended that the standards be reviewed and updated from time to time, which is less a matter of Common Core than common sense.”

Daily Beast“The (Possibly) Post-No Child Left Behind Presidency”: Award-winning former journalist Campbell Brown writes that as the campaign season moves ahead, “it may be more accurate” to think of education of “the most important issue of our time.” Brown’s new non-profit, non-partisan education news site will partner with the American Federation of Children and the Des Moines Register to host two National Education Summits for Republican presidential candidates. Brown writes, “The timing could not be more important or fraught, with issues like the Common Core standards … dividing lawmakers and advocates and reflecting frustrations … about what schools should look like.” Brown notes that just 41 percent of Americans say they know what the standards are, but 36 percent identify it as a “standardized test” and “nearly 22 percent identifying it as a curriculum.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Churn of Missouri State Tests Puts School Accountability on Hold”: Missouri school districts “might be at risk of a downgrade in accreditation based on 2015 standardized test scores will be given a reprieve” through 2017. Legislative action means there will be “two different tests over the next two years.” Scores from the 2015 exams will be released today, but results “cannot be accurately compared with results from previous assessments, so districts with poor results are not likely to face punitive measures.” Of Missouri’s 520 school districts, only a handful are at risk for a downgrade. The article notes that “St. Louis Public Schools showed improvement in 2014, but would have been at risk of losing its provisional accreditation status if significant gains weren’t made this past year.”