News You Can Use:

The Seventy-Four, “Assessing the Assessments: What a Survey of America’s Top Educators Revealed about Year-End Tests”: New research conducted by State Teacher of the Year Award recipients and finalists finds PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessments were preferred over several states’ old tests, writes Katherine Bassett, executive director of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year. “Essentially, we set out to assess the assessments… A number of teachers expressed that they were prepared to give negative feedback on the two consortia tests and were surprised to find that they preferred them.” The groups of educators agreed the consortia tests better reflect the skill students should master; include material that better measures cognitive complexity; align with strong instructional practices; provide relevant information, especially for moderate and high performers, and; are grade-level appropriate. “The participating teachers said they believe that the PARCC and Smarter Balanced exams will drive productive learning and best assess students on what they need to be successful…PARCC and Smarter Balanced are not perfect tests…but, in the view of these teachers, the tests put us on the right trajectory for strengthening student learning.”

What It Means: The NNSTOY research, which is the first of its kind in giving educators a voice, adds to the evidence that suggests high-quality tests aligned to rigorous education standards best meet student needs. The study comes at an important time. This year most states gave tests aligned to college- and career-ready standards for the first time, marking a new milestone in efforts to raise classroom expectations. While the results have been “sobering,” parents and educators are finally getting honest information, which is a necessary step to begin improving student outcomes. The NNSTOY study reaffirms that it would be a mistake for states to turn back on this important work as it begins to take root.

Macomb Daily, “Common Core Doesn’t Inhibit Creativity”: Common Core State Standards are a “directional pacing guide” and do not impede flexibility or creativity in teachers’ instruction, writes Mike Lerchenfeldt, a Michigan Educator Voice Fellow. “These standards encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills in order to obtain deeper levels of understanding rather than rote memorization,” the piece notes. “Using texts of my own choosing, I push students to comprehend and reflect on what they read…I am always thinking of fun ideas to engage students when I facilitate my lessons.” Similarly, in math, the standards encourage students to experiment with multiple approaches and explain their logic. “Critical thinking encourages discoveries and innovation,” Lerchenfeldt says, and project-based learning provides “student-centered” opportunities to foster skills needed at higher levels of education. “The Common Core allows teachers to be flexible enough to utilize teaching models like Project Based Learning to meet the needs of our students.”

What It Means: Contrary to the misperception that Common Core State Standards constrict creativity and flexibility in classrooms, they provide teachers autonomy by setting high learning goals and giving states, districts and educators control over how best to achieve them. As two New York educators wrote this year, Common Core State Standards empower “greater collaboration” among teachers and students, and allow educators to share best practices to unlock students’ full potential. That’s one reason why teachers remain strongly supportive of the Common Core. A Scholastic study last fall found more than 80 percent of teachers who worked closely with the standards were enthusiastic about implementation.

Correcting the Record:

Newark Star Ledger, “New Bill Would End PARCC Testing in New Jersey”: Late last week, New Jersey Assemblywoman Patricia Egan Jones announced a proposal that would require the state to replace PARCC exams after the current school year. “We are losing valuable instruction time in favor of a test with questionable results,” Jones said. “Students of all academic abilities are struggling under the heavy burden of the current PARCC testing schedule and the adverse strain it places on their learning environment.” Jones’ bill would have the State Education Department develop and implement a new assessment and would preclude the use of PARCC material. New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe said this fall that PARCC exams provide the most accurate information about student readiness, and Gov. Christie announced in May the state would continue using PARCC even as it reviewed its Common Core State Standards.

Where They Went Wrong: High-quality tests are one of the best tools parents and teachers have to support students, and evidence suggests that tests like PARCC provide more accurate information and better align with classroom instruction. A National Network of State Teachers of the Year study had near unanimous agreement that PARCC exams better reflect the skills students need and more closely align with classroom instruction than several assessments states used before.

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Associated Press, “Backlash over Common Core Extends to U.S. Catholic Schools”: Some Roman Catholic schools are considering how to balance Common Core State Standards with spiritual goals. About half the 195 U.S. dioceses initially adopted the Common Core, and the number that have opted out of using either the standards or assessments aligned to them has not been tracked. But some have said they will scale back their involvement. The Diocese of Albany, for example, announced it will reduce the frequency of Common Core-aligned tests. “Although the standards of the Common Core itself are good, the collateral pieces have caused great strife for families and teachers,” Superintendent Michael Pizzingrillo said. “What this situation has done is created an opportunity for Catholic schools to review our mission: What is our mission and how does the curriculum support that mission?” says Sister John Mary Fleming, director for education at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

US News & World Report, “Education Myth: American Students Are Over-Tested”: Most other developed countries administer more student assessments than the United States, according to research by Andreas Schleicher, an international education expert. “You got this impression, if they would only get rid of tests, everything would get better,” Schleicher says. But, “The U.S. is not a country of heavy testing… In many countries there is a test going on every month.” More than a third of 15-year-old students in the Netherlands took a standardized test at least once a month. In the U.S., only two percent of students said they took a standardized test that frequently. “I would argue that many forms of assessment are important for improving learning and for understanding where students are,” Schleicher concludes.

Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, “Indiana Has Created a Testing Mess”: Indiana officials “bowed to pressure” in the decision to replace the state’s Common Core standards and “cobbled together something as part of the ISTEP program, apparently without a lot of thought and preparation,” the editorial board writes. “The results are starting to come in now, and they are not pretty. School superintendents from around the state are using words like ‘botched,’ ‘boondoggle’ and ‘fiasco’ to describe the standardized testing system…Whatever [state officials] decide to do, can they please, please, please not skip the research and vetting this time?”