News You Can Use:

Charleston Gazette-Mail, “Don’t Shoot the Test Score Messenger”: The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio write that states have “reached a critical milestone” following the first year of student assessments aligned to higher education standards. In West Virginia, only about a quarter of middle school students are on track in math, and less than half are proficient in reading, the piece notes. “Though the scores may come as a shock to many, let us explain why parents and taxpayers shouldn’t shoot the messenger…Parents deserve to know if their kids are learning, and taxpayers are entitled to know if the money we spend on schools is being used wisely…Unfortunately, most states, including West Virginia, set a very low bar. They ‘juked the stats.’” The authors say that, put plainly, old tests lied to parents. “Every year, 70 percent of West Virginia’s community college students must take ‘remedial’ courses…many of those students will leave without a degree, or any kind of credential.” The piece notes, “The most important step to fixing this problem is to stop lying to ourselves – and to parents – and ensure our children are ready for the next grade, and when they turn 18, for college or work…Common Core should help to boost college readiness – and college completion – by significantly raising expectations… Mountain State parents, in other words, are finally learning the truth.”

What It Means: Petrilli and Pondiscio make a strong case that high-quality student assessments are a necessary step to ensure parents get an honest evaluation of how well their child is developing the skills and knowledge to succeed at high levels of learning, and ultimately to graduate high school college- and career-ready. For a long time, states systematically lowered the bar instead of adequately helping students to levels of college- and career-readiness. By holding students to higher expectations, states are taking the difficult step of improving student preparedness. In states that adopted the Common Core Standards and tougher assessments early, like Kentucky and Tennessee, schools have achieved some of the biggest academic improvements in the country.

The Seventy Four Million, “Common Core’s Silent Majority: As Unions and GOP Candidates Bash Standards, Americans Remain Supportive”: Reporting on the results of the ninth annual Education Next survey, Paul Peterson and Martin West write: “With criticism mounting from both the right and left, one might assume that the American public is ready to give up on the Common Core. But the public is still quietly backing Common Core by a margin of nearly 15 percentage points…Support for student testing is even broader: 67% of the public say they support continuing the federal requirement for annual testing.” Education Week reports that the Education Next study attributes opposition to the standards to “a shallow factual foundation.” Sixty percent of respondents didn’t know whether their districts used the Common Core. The results largely depend on how you “ask the questions,” Peterson explains. “Lawmakers are hearing from people at the extremes. We all need a more nuanced view of the complexity of public education.” “Even that odd-ball coalition [between the Tea Party and teachers’ unions] has yet to sway the thinking of the silent majority,” the article concludes.

What It Means: Despite years of targeted attacks, the public remains committed to rigorous education standards and increased accountability, which are the principles Common Core Standards are built on. Instead of the mass exodus away from the Common Core predicted by opponents, states continue to review and build on the standards further, exactly as they were designed. This year no states passed repeal legislation, and after two national elections all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to use the standards or a very similar set of standards. As Mike Petrilli wrote last December, one reason states remain committed to the Common Core is that it is impossible draft standards that prepare students for college and career and that look nothing like the Common Core.

Huffington Post, “Barbecuing [With] the Common Core”: Stephen Chiger, director of literacy for Uncommon Schools, writes that while Common Core State Standards have been made into a “boogeyman of U.S. education,” such concerns are fed more by “fear than fact.” A recent Education Next study, Chiger points out, explains “the broader public’s opposition to the Common Core appears to rest on a shallow factual foundation,” and a large portion of respondents could not identify what the standards cover. “Most [educators] want to work from the assumption that, on the whole, the education received in each state is relatively comparable …Thing is, it couldn’t be further from the truth.” For example, in 2013, the proficiency bar for New York’s Common Core-aligned literacy test was about four grade levels higher than the un-aligned exam in Georgia. Chiger concludes, “You might ask the critic what they’d replace the core standards with. How do they account for the educational performance in their state in their state back in the good old days before Common Core?”

What It Means: While years of targeted attacks against the Common Core Standards have been successful in damaging the brand, the public remains committed to high, comparable education standards and increased accountability. That’s why after two national elections all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to use the standards or a similar version. This year, no states passed legislation to repeal the Common Core despite a 75 percent increase in bills aimed at doing so. Instead, several states launched reviews to refine and build on the framework laid by the Common Core, exactly as the standards were designed. Karen Nussle explains, “It is virtually impossible to produce a set of K-12 academic standards that both bear no resemblance to Common Core, and adequately prepare students for college & career.”

Christianity Today, “Common Core Meets VBS”: To help combat the “summer slide,” in which minority and low-income students have a greater risk of learning loss than their wealthier classmates, Vacation Bible School (VBS) In Louisville, Kentucky, is partnering with educators to help integrate Common Core Standards into Bible lessons. Twenty-five VBS and Sunday School leaders from about 20 churches received training this summer. Nicole Joyner, one of the VBS teachers, divided her class into groups to discuss a scripture, summarize the passage and present it back to the class. “The experiences are not the same for the minority and at-risk kids,” explains Charlotte Jackson, another VBS teacher. “I was glad that the school district was doing these types of things to make sure everyone was keeping up.” The article notes Kentucky has experienced academic gains since adopting Common Core Standards. Nearly two-thirds of students are now considered college-ready, up from 37 percent in 2011, and average ACT scores are “the highest since the state began recording them in 2008.”

What It Means: Vacation Bible School’s integration of Common Core Standards into its lessons exemplifies the ways local education programs are using the standards to provide students of all backgrounds with the support they need to develop the skills for higher levels of learning. Such efforts help to ensure traditionally at-risk student populations are held to rigorous academic expectations that prepare them for college or a career. As the article notes, Kentucky, the earliest adopter of Common Core Standards, has experienced some of the biggest educational improvements since adopting the standards and serves as a model for other states now implementing stronger assessments aligned to the Common Core.  On a related note, many churches will be celebrating Education Sunday on September 6th.


Correcting the Record:

Westchester Journal News, “Opt-Out Movement Sends a Clear Message”: The high number of parents in New York that allowed their children to refuse state tests offers a clear message to policymakers, the editorial board writes: “Growing numbers of parents are not happy with our educational direction.” “Now it’s up to new state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to make her mark by continuing to talk to parents and school district leaders, acknowledging their concerns and changing the state’s finger-wagging tone toward its critics,” the piece states. “It’s disconcerting that she has described opting out as ‘not reasonable’ and insisted that it’s ‘unethical’ for educators to support opting out.” The editorial identifies several factors that it says contributed to the opt-out movement, including “too much focus on new Common Core tests is leading to a narrowing of the curriculum and ‘teaching to the test,’” and “the tests themselves are poorly conceived and have not been reviewed.” “The overall issue is that growing numbers of parents seem to believe that the trifecta of tougher standards, tougher tests and tougher teacher evaluations is not the answer to improving public education.”

Where They Went Wrong: While just one of many ways educators measure student progress, high-quality assessments are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to ensure their children are on a path to succeed at high levels of learning and ultimately graduate high school college- and career-ready. As the Honesty Gap analysis made clear, for a long time most states did not provide parents with an accurate measure of how their kids were really doing. Now, as states have begun the hard work of implementing higher standards and honest assessments, is not the time to turn back on these efforts. Meaningful assessments are particularly important for the civils rights community, to ensure that all students are held to the same high expectations, and to ensure that all students, no matter their race or ZIP code, graduate high school fully prepared for the next step.


On Our Reading List:

EdSource, “Common Core Yet to Emerge as Major Issue in Presidential Campaign”: In the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign, Common Core State Standards have not emerged as a decisive issue. Noting the education standards were not a “significant point of discussion” during the two major GOP forums this month, the article explains one reason is the “near total eclipse of most substantive policy discussions…by the presence and pronouncements of Donald Trump.” It adds that during the first Republican debate the two candidates questioned about the Common Core, Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Jeb Bush, both articulated the importance of local control and high academic expectations.

US News & World Report“Education on the Trail”: Robert Pondiscio, vice president for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, outlines six “campaign themes we’d like to see candidates from either party embrace.” First among them is the idea that “education reform is working.” “It’s by no means unanimous or uncontroversial, but Americans are generally supportive of the education reform agenda, broadly defined,” Pondiscio says. “Voters even like higher education standards as long as you don’t use the words ‘Common Core.’ And while there’s no room for complacency, reform is working.” Pondiscio also points to a recent opinion piece by Chester Finn and Brandon Wright that argues “U.S. education policy for decades has focused on boosting weak students to minimum proficiency while neglecting the children who have already cleared that low bar.”

Washington Post“U.S. Schools Are Too Focused on Standardized Tests, Poll Says”: The 47th annual PDK / Gallup poll of attitudes toward public schools indicates Americans overwhelmingly think there is too much emphasis on standardized testing and that tests are not the best way to judge schools, teachers or students. Sixty-four percent of respondents said too much emphasis has been placed on testing. Many participants also said students should be judged by multiple measures, including student work, teacher observations and grades, and that teacher quality is the best way to improve education, followed by high academic standards. A majority of respondents said the federal government should play no role in school accountability.