News You Can Use:

Arizona Capitol Times, “Senate Votes to Preserve Common Core”: By a 19-10 vote, the Arizona Senate killed legislation on Monday that would have allowed schools to replace CCSS with separate education standards. This is the second year the Senate has refused to scrap Common Core Standards. The bill would have required school districts to come up with their own standards, subject to state approval, and asked the state board of education to approve at least four standardized tests districts could use. Monday’s vote comes less than a week after the House Education Committee voted to block the state board of education from implementing CCSS-aligned standards, the article notes, but House efforts could end up being irrelevant if state senators don’t reach the same conclusion, which Monday’s vote indicates they will not.

What It Means: The Arizona Senate’s vote, again, to refuse to abandon CCSS underscores the state’s commitment to high education standards. The vote is especially symbolic as Arizona has become a bellwether of state action on CCSS following superintendent Diane Douglas’ successful campaign based on dismantling the Standards. Across the country, most states continue to stick with CCSS because parents and educators recognize the value of high standards and the quality of CCSS to help improve student outcomes.

 Des Moines Register, “A Smarter Test for Iowa’s Schoolchildren”: Charlie Edwards and May Ellen Miller, members of the Iowa board of education, explain the unanimous decision to adopt CCSS-aligned Smarter Balanced tests and respond to “misleading claims” from a recent opinion article by state Rep. Sandy Salmon. Iowa’s current exam, Edwards and Miller point out, measures students’ ability to memorize facts rather than real-world knowledge and skills, and fails to reflect what’s being taught in classrooms. “Our state test must measure how students have progressed in meeting [new] expectations,” the authors note. A review committee put in more than a year of consideration before choosing Smarter Balanced assessments. The exams were developed by states and are not a “national” product, whereas Iowa’s old tests “represent a shelf product” from an Illinois-based publisher. “Iowa will get much more for our money with the Smarter Balanced assessments,” “the testing process be more effective,” and “teaching and learning will be enhanced,” Edwards and Miller say. “This kind of information is priceless to the teachers, school administrators, parents and elected school board leaders who are working hard for our students.”

What It Means: Edwards and Miller make a strong case for the value of CCSS-aligned exams and Iowa’s unanimous decision to support them. As the piece notes, assessments like Smarter Balanced provide a more efficient measure of student progress faster to help educators tailor instruction to their children’s needs. “The assessments offer incredible precision in identifying skills that students have mastered, as well as those areas where they’re struggling, both for individual students and for groups of students,” helping ultimately for schools to devote less time to testing and test preparation. 

College Heights Herald, “Kentucky Educators See Improvement with Common Core”: Kentucky, the first state to adopt and fully align teaching to CCSS, has experienced some of the biggest academic gains in the country under the Standards. The article notes college-readiness scores in the state doubled in the five years since schools have been using CCSS, reducing the need for remedial coursework among college-bound students. “The CCSS are a response to the cohesive outcries from business, industry, colleges and universities, parents, state legislatures, and school administrators and teachers to fix the problem of too many of our students graduating from high school, desperately underprepared for the demands of college and career,” said Pamela Petty, a professor of education at Western Kentucky University. “If we put aside conspiracy theories…and actually read the standards…we may just find the ‘fix’ we all wanted.” “Teachers are being held to a higher standard because the Common Core holds the students to a higher standard,” added Shannon Lay, a college student studying education.

What It Means: The significant academic improvements in states like Kentucky and Tennessee, two of the earliest adopters of CCSS, demonstrate the effectiveness of setting high education standards for students. The gains those states have made contrast sharply with states like Oklahoma, which chose to revert back to inferior standards and have since found themselves struggling to come up with equally strong replacements. As the political debate over the Standards continues to heat up, states will have to decide which path they want to take. 

LA Times, “No Child Left Behind and Testing Help Hold Schools Accountable”: Harvard professor Paul Peterson writes that testing requirements under NCLB, though imperfect, have helped improve student outcomes and hold schools to greater accountability over the past 10 years. Peterson notes civil rights groups and more than 80% of the public continue to support student assessments to help ensure students are on track to develop the skills for college and the workforce. “If you don’t test students every year, you cannot detect the progress they are making under each teacher,” Peterson adds. “Without that information, performance pay and tenure based on merit fly out the window.”

What It Means: Meaningful assessments are an important tool for parents and educators to ensure their students are developing the skills necessary for college or a career. CCSS-aligned tests are designed to provide more useful feedback for teachers so they can identify and address student learning needs. And because CCSS-aligned assessments require students to demonstrate their reasoning, they mitigate the incentives to “teach to the test.”


Correcting the Record:

Washington Post, “Top Teacher Is Quitting: ‘I can’t Drill ‘Em and Kill ‘Em’”: Ohio teacher Stacie Starr, who was selected last year by the TV show Live with Kelly and Micheal as a “Top Teacher,” said she will quit teaching because she can no longer teach to standardized tests. “We are becoming presenters of material and not teachers,” Starr said. “They have taken away all of our creativity in the classroom.” Starr said ninth-grade students with learning disabilities, who read at fourth- and fifth-grade levels, must take CCSS-aligned exams even though they will not be able to handle detailed reading passages or write analytical essays. “These children are being demoralized on a daily basis,” Starr added.

Where They Went Wrong: Unlike Starr, most teachers who have worked closely with CCSS strongly support them. According to a Scholastic study, more than two-thirds report seeing improvements in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. Many teachers, including numerous Teachers of the Year, say the Standards provide greater clarity and flexibility to meet student needs. Like previous tests, CCSS-align assessments accommodate students with learning needs, and the tests are designed to give educators and parents more constructive feedback about student progress to reduce the time devoted to testing.

Phoenix Business Journal, “What Businesses and the Common Core Crowd Don’t Understand about Diane Douglas”: Common Core advocates don’t realize Arizona superintendent Diane Douglas’ calls for repealing CCSS resonate beyond crowds critical of the Standards, reporter Mike Sunnucks writes. “Douglas also hits on some legitimate questions about the private sector’s education agenda.” Sunnucks notes differences in other countries’ education systems make comparisons invalid. “Our education system has turned into one predominantly of job training,” Douglas said in a recent interview. Believe it or not that message resonates beyond the Glen Beck, Fox News and the anti-Common Core crowd, Sunnucks concludes.

Where They Went Wrong: After two national elections all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt CCSS continue to use them or some nearly identical brand of them. The reason the Standards have such staying power is that parents and educators support high education standards, regardless of what label is put on them. According to polling last year, more than two-thirds of parents support high education standards, and teachers who have worked closely with CCSS overwhelmingly continue to support their implementation.


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Helena Independent Record, “House Endorses Bill to Revoke Common Core Public School Standards”: On Saturday, the Montana House voted 55-45 to endorse a bill that seeks to repeal and replace CCSS in the state. HB 377 would set up a committee to review the state’s education standards and replace them with a new state-written set. CCSS proponents said doing so would be a mistake and the Standards are an improvement that challenge students and give teachers more flexibility in the classroom. State superintendent Denise Juneau says she expects the bill to fail, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports. “It would turn the public education system upside down to go back to the old standards,” Juneau said. She indicated she would ask the governor to veto the bill, should it get approved in the Senate.

Vox, “The More People Say They Know about Common Core, the Less They Actually Do”: Reporting on the recent Fairleigh Dickinson University study, which found most respondents had misperceptions of CCSS, the article notes 77% of participants who said they have heard “a lot” about Common Core inaccurately identified which subjects the Standards cover. Individuals who had heard “nothing at all” about CCSS were more likely to get answers about them correct. “That suggests that some people were basing their approval on the standards on wrong information,” the article states.

Norwich Bulletin, “Students Ready to Debate Common Core”: Students from several high schools in Connecticut will debate the merit of CCSS and their impact on students at the inaugural Grace Sawyer Jones Debate hosted by Three Rivers Community College on Thursday. The debate will focus on whether or not the Standards should be repealed as a framework for teaching and learning. “The students are engaged in the topic because they’re living through it right now so they see how it impacts them,” said one teacher from a participating high school.