News You Can Use:

Washington Post, “Standardized Tests Can Help Combat Inequity”: Despite “years of work” to close achievement gaps, disparities in educational achievement between low-income students of color and more affluent students still “loom large.” While some point to this as a reason to back away from accountability-driven endeavors, “it should motivate us only to redouble those efforts and push boldly forward,” writes Robert Bobb, former president of the DC Board of Education. Common Core State Standards set students on the right track, focusing on “the bedrock skills and knowledge all students need to succeed in school.” “Tests aren’t meant to be a panacea for all that ails,” the piece states. “Still, they can – and do – help diagnose how far behind [at-risk] students might be, and they often aid in the development of an appropriate prescription for improving their potential success.” New assessments, like PARCC, measure “skills most important to 21st-century success,” like critical thinking and problem solving, and provide parents and teachers with better information “crucial to building each child’s strengths and addressing specific areas of academic challenge.” “The failure to set solid standards and conduct regular quality assessments…is akin to educational malpractice.”

What It Means: High, consistent education standards and high-quality assessments are important to ensure that students of all backgrounds are held to levels that prepare them for college and careers. Civil rights groups have long advocated that meaningful assessments are necessary to provide parents and educators with “consistent, accurate, and reliable data” to improve outcomes for historically poor-performing student populations. As the Honesty Gap analysis highlighted, for a long time discrepancies in academic expectations and state test scores kept parents from getting an accurate measure of how well prepared their child was. As states implement higher standards and meaningful assessments, now is not the time to turn back on these efforts.

Tacoma News Tribune, “Washington Wisely Stays the Course with Common Core”: Results from the first round of assessments aligned to higher standards in Washington State, which indicate that fewer students obtained top scores, isn’t bad news, the editorial board writes. “The new Smarter Balanced exam demands more. Unlike previous statewide tests, it reflects rigorous national standards.” Because the bar was raised, it makes sense that fewer students will clear it at first, the piece says. “The sky is not falling…Students and schools have time to up their game.” While some may want to return to previous tests, the “Smarter Balanced Assessment could be thought of as a fire alarm that should have been ringing for the last 50 years…This state needs higher standards and tougher tests.” Noting that opponents have been trying to “stir up panic” and “sabotage” the transition to Common Core State Standards, the editorial concludes, “There’s plenty of room to raise the bar. And when bars are raised, students run faster and jump higher.”

What It Means: By setting high, comparable learning goals for all students, Common Core State Standards and high-quality assessments ensure more students will get and stay on a track of college- and career-readiness. New tests administered for the first time this year by most states provide parents and teachers with accurate data about how well students are really developing the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed at high levels of learning. While challenging, higher expectations are working. States like Kentucky and Tennessee, early adopters of the Common Core, have experienced some of the biggest academic improvements in the country, and many states have begun to close their Honesty Gaps.

Huntsville Times, “The Day Common Core Came Home”: Columnist Cameron Smith writes of his experience with Common Core State Standards through homework sent home with his sons. “As I plowed through the problems, I realize that this wasn’t even close to how I learned math,” Smith says. “It was far more conceptual. I basically memorized math facts as a child. This doesn’t do that…I actually found myself wanting to explore the next set of problems, a phenomenon I didn’t experience as a child.” Noting that any one Common Core-aligned math problem taken in a vacuum might “look pretty silly,” Smith explains the purpose is to introduce students to techniques that require thinking about “spatial orientation, units of measure, and dimensions,” as well as to develop a conceptual understanding numbers and functions. “Being able to manipulate math concepts rather than simply knowing math facts is unequivocally a useful skill preparing them for the modern economy.”

What It Means: While some of the problem-solving methods introduced by Common Core State Standards may be unfamiliar to parents who grew up using different approaches, the purpose is to help students develop better conceptual understanding of the mechanics behind numbers and operations. By developing those building blocks, the standards help prepare students for higher levels of learning. It’s important to emphasize some things that have not changed. Students still have to know their addition facts and multiplication facts by heart. A Scholastic study last year found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

USA Today, “Can Bush and Kasich Win Over Republicans While Supporting Common Core?”: Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush continue to defend high, consistent standards against unfounded claims, “and they’re right,” the article notes, but both “need the vote of Republicans who disagree with them.” Both men advocate for the need for rigorous, comparable education standards controlled locally – the intention of the Common Core State Standards. “But to many Republican voters, Common Core is tainted with federal involvement,” the article says, even though the “standards aren’t a federal program or law” and were developed through state leadership. “Still, the issue isn’t front of mind for most voters these days,” and as one South Carolina GOP consultant notes, “it’s probably not on the front burner like it was maybe a year ago.”

What It Means: The article underscores how intertwined false information has become with perceptions of the Common Core State Standards. Years of targeted attacks have been successful in distorting what the standards are. Still, recent polling confirms that the public continues to strongly support high academic expectations and increased accountability, precisely the principles that the Common Core is built on. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to implement the standards or some similar version, and this year zero states passed repeal legislation despite a 75 percent increase in bills aimed at doing so. While the Common Core may still serve as rallying call for a small, vocal group of activists, for leaders with the courage to stand up for high education standards and honest assessments the Common Core can be a political asset, not a liability.


Correcting the Record:

Associated Press, “As Common Core Results Trickle In, Initial Goals Unfulfilled”: As states release scores from assessments aligned to higher education standards, the overall results are higher than expected but “still below what many parents may be accustomed to seeing.” Yet, when all the results are available, it will not be possible to compare student performance across a majority of states, the article reports, “chiefly because states are dropping out of the two testing groups and creating their own exams.” “The whole idea of Common Core was to bring students and schools under a common definition of what success is,” says Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute. “And Common Core is not going to have that. One of its fundamental arguments has been knocked out from under it.” Even while states are “getting richer information about student learning,” differences between Smarter Balanced, PARCC and other state tests are making it difficult to evenly compare results. “We feel really confident in the group that we have,” said a spokesperson for Smarter Balanced even though several states have withdrawn or plan to withdraw their participation.

Where They Went Wrong: Comparable assessments empower states to measure how well they are preparing students relative to others across the country, and to share best practices and build on what’s working. Most states have adopted high-quality exams that measure students against higher expectations, providing teachers and parents with better information about how well prepared their children really are. Despite reports that states are backing out of the high-quality assessments en masse, more than 20 states are administering assessments that will allow comparisons across states – a comparison that most states have not been able to make before. And while the article focuses on states that have opted not to give these exams, it does not mention that states can choose to adopt the assessments in the future. As the recent Honesty Gap analysis made clear, high quality assessments that measure progress against the new, higher standards are a necessary step to begin improving student outcomes.


On Our Reading List:

EdSource, “Amid Criticism, State Officials Restore Past Years’ Test Data”: Following criticism for removing test data from previous years, the California Department of Education began restoring the information to its website on Friday. “We sought to provide clear and relevant information to the public, highlight CAASP results, and maintain our strong commitment to transparency,” Bill Ainsworth, the department’s communications director, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this action was misperceived by some and may have caused confusion. As a result, we are restoring STAR test results.” The State Department of Education plans to release scores from new Smarter Balanced assessments on Sept. 9, which it notes are not comparable to past scores because the tests are aligned to higher education standards.

Education Week, “Nearly Half of States Opted to Hit Accountability Snooze Button”: Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia have moved to use an option offered by the U.S. Department of Education to “pause” state-level accountability during the 2014-15 school year to give schools “breathing room” as they transition to higher standards and new assessments. The change means that if a school had a high rating last year, but didn’t perform so well on new assessments, it won’t necessarily have to worry about suddenly dropping from say, an “A” to a “D,” the article states. Still, states receiving NCLB waivers will have to identify low-performing schools and set achievement targets. “The fact that everyone has been so quiet about it and accepting is just one more sign that the federal role in accountability is on the wane, no matter what happens with NCLB reauthorization this fall.”

Hartford Courant, “New ‘Smarter Balanced’ Test Scores Low, but State Sees English Scores as ‘Bright Spot’”: Connecticut education officials released student scores from Smarter Balanced exams on Friday, which were given for the first time this spring. The results show 39.1 percent of students met or exceeded the target achievement level in math, while 55.4 percent did so in English language arts. “We really cannot compare our scores on the Smarter Balanced assessment to the Connecticut Mastery assessment,” said Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell. “They are really different assessments that have a different degree of rigor and measure different things.” The results showed many of the same achievement gap patterns exist, including between urban and suburban students, and between racial and ethnic groups.

On Education Research, “Common Core Goes Postmodern”: Reacting to some experts’ dismissal of research on the causal impact of college- and career-ready standards and student outcomes in 50 states, Morgan Polikoff, one of the principal investigators in the study, says such positions, taken to their logical conclusion, suggest “we cannot ever know the impact of Common Core adoption or implementation (in which case why are we still talking about it?).” “I suspect, however, that Jay [Greene] and Rick [Hess] don’t believe that. For starters, they’ve routinely amplified work that has at least as serious methodological problems as our yet-to-be-conducted work. In that case, however, the findings (standards don’t matter much) happened to agree with their priors. Furthermore, both have written repeatedly about the negative impacts of Common Core…How can we know any of these things are caused by Common Core if even the best-designed causal research can’t be trusted?”