News You Can Use:

Atlanta Journal Constitution, “State Ed Board Tweaks Common Core. Will Critics Be Satisfied?”: The Georgia Board of Education approved changes to the state’s Common Core standards to reflect public input over the last few months. “These revisions ensure that our standards are responsive to the needs of Georgia students and educators,” the Board’s chair Helen Rice said in a statement. Maureen Downey reports most of the changes were minor and meant to clarify language and sequences. “For example, in analytic geometry, the standard ‘prove that all circles are similar’ is changed to ‘understand that all circles are similar,’” the article notes. “Contrary to what opponents said at public hearings, most teachers surveyed didn’t find the standards confusing and felt they would improve student learning,” Downey writes. “Yet, we give credence to the indictment of education standards by people outside the field who just don’t like them because they believe – incorrectly – the U.S. Department of Education had a hand in crafting them.”

What It Means: Georgia’s changes to its version of CCSS demonstrate how states are taking ownership of the Standards and honing them to ensure they meet their student-specific needs. In several states, state and local authorities are reviewing and making changes to the Standards where necessary – exactly as they were designed.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, “State Superintendent Says 20 Hours of Standardized Tests Is Too Many for Ohio Kids, Suggests Reduction”: In a report to the state legislature, Ohio’s superintendent Richard Ross recommended ways to cut required student testing by nearly 20 percent while also maintaining the state’s ability to evaluate students’ progress and measure school performance. “[These recommendations] will reduce testing and increase instructional time for Ohio’s boys and girls,” Ross said in a statement. The report suggests scaling back standardized tests, particularly in early grades, not CCSS-aligned tests for math and English. “[Ross] does not recommend any changes to the new state [CCSS] tests,” the article states. “Ross instead proposes limiting standardized testing – not including tests created by teachers – to two percent of the school year.”

What It Means: The report’s suggestion to scale back standardized testing underscores local authorities’ ability and willingness to respond to parents’ concerns about the proper role of student assessments. That the superintendent recommends reducing standardized tests while keeping in place CCSS-aligned assessments underscores the value of the latter. Tests aligned to the Standards are designed to provide more constructive feedback, allowing schools to devote less time to testing.

Science Blogs, “Thanks, Common Core”: Using examples of his daughter’s ability to think through basic math problems in several ways, physics teacher Chad Orzel says through CCSS his daughter “doesn’t just know a rote algorithm for adding numbers, but actually understands the meaning of the process, and cheerfully explains her reasoning.” Orzel points out that though the problems may seem fairly simple to parents, his daughter and other learning through strategies encouraged by CCSS are “basically doing photo-algebra.” “I’ve seen entering college students struggle with this level of stuff, because they know algorithms but don’t understand the meaning,” he writes. “So, anyway, thanks Common Core. More like this, please.”

What It Means: In addition to traditional math problem solving techniques, CCSS encourage teachers and students to use multiple approaches, giving children a better understanding of numbers and functions. By doing so, and by better structuring the progression of learning, the Standards help students develop strong building blocks to succeed at higher level content.

Educators for Higher Standards, “Common Core Standards Are Working in Kindergarten”: Lisa Bass, a teacher with 13 years of experience, says that students are learning strong basic reading skills as early as kindergarten through CCSS. “They learn to retell stories, recognize types of texts, describe relationships between illustrations and stories, compare and contrast character experiences, and many other important literacy skills,” Bass notes. ”Strong, cohesive, and comprehensive early childhood development is supported by the Common Core State Standards, which focus on introducing and building a strong foundation of literacy and language skills, beginning at the kindergarten level… As an expert in the field, I wholeheartedly support the Common Core State Standards for Kindergarten. The standards exist only to help me benchmark my students’ learning expectations, but I decide how they will learn and we often learning literacy skills through play!” Pointing out that children begin developing reading skills early, Bass says why not begin introducing students to the basics at an early age, as CCSS do.

What It Means: Beginning at early grades, CCSS introduce students to the fundamental skills they will need to reach higher level content. The Standards provide a structured progression of learning, unlike many states previous standards, so that students spend less time on duplicative or unnecessary material.



Correcting the Record:

Washington Post, “A New Bill Could Mark the Beginning of the End of the Common Core”: Sen. Lamar Alexander’s legislation to revamp NCLB could make “Common Core a history lesson” Max Ehrenfreund writes (though in the same article he adds, “What Alexander’s legislation would mean for the Common Core remains to be seen.”). Sen. Alexander’s bill would reduce federal involvement in education by ensuring states are allowed to choose which standards and tests they use. Fordham’s Mike Petrilli disagrees that the bill would encourage states to abandon CCSS, noting states adopted them voluntarily. “These really were standards that were adopted at the state level,” he said. Ehrenfreund concludes the bill could frustrate both supporter and opponents of CCSS by encouraging some states to opt out and others to keep the Standards, thereby not getting rid of CCSS but also not having a large group of states to compare across.

Where They Went Wrong: Many states signed onto CCSS long before the Obama Administration coopted it to the Race to the Top program, and it’s likely many would choose to continue with the Standards after having invested the last five years into their implementation and now beginning to see their success. As Petrilli points out, Sen. Alexander’s bill will be good for the debate over CCSS by taking away critics’ defense that the Standards were foisted on states.

Forbes, “Common Core Is Taking Away Kids’ Recess – and That Makes No Sense”: Arthur Caplan and Lee Igel, both professors in NYU’s Sports and Society Program, pick up on this week’s Today Show segment, saying cutting back on children’s playtime will have an impact on obesity rates and physical and emotional cognition. Without citing evidence, the authors say CCSS “is closer to imprisonment than education,” according to “most parents, teachers and students.” They add, “Cramming more and more into the same number of school days makes no sense… If you think hyperactivity and attention deficit are problems now, let’s see what happens in a school day with no recess and no physical activity.” The piece also claims “a mechanism in the Common Core often ties teachers’ pay and job status to the results of student performance on those tests,” which is factually inaccurate. Teacher evaluations, including whether they are linked to students’ performance on exams, are determined by state and federal policy and have nothing to do with whether or not schools use CCSS.

Where They Went Wrong: Like the authors, CCSS supporters don’t support cramming more material into each school day, and certainly not getting rid of students’ recess. CCSS provide fewer, clearer objectives to focus learning on developing the skills students need to be prepared for higher level content and structure learning in a way that cuts back on the stuff that’s duplicative and unnecessary. The Standards are about one thing—helping students reach their potential by gaining the knowledge and achieving the educational skills necessary for success and life’s challenges. They are certainly not about reducing important social learning opportunities and physical benefits that come from an activity like recess. In the same way, CCSS-aligned exams are designed to help schools devote less time to testing by providing a more accurate measure of students’ abilities.



On Our Reading List:

USA Today, “States with the Best Schools”: Reporting on Education Week’s Quality Counts report, which grades states’ education systems, the article reports that despite most states adoption of comparable standards “state school systems are still far from equal.” “Clearly, the stakes for students are high, and the U.S. still has a way to go to develop an education system that best-serves its children,” it notes. In the Quality Counts reports, the U.S. school system at large earned a C rating. Massachusetts had the best schools with a B grade; Mississippi had the worst with a D grade.

Louis Post-Dispatch, “Missouri Adopts Minimum Scores for New Standardized Test”: The Missouri Board of Education moved forward with plans to use CCSS-aligned tests for students this spring by approving proficiency cut scores. The Board adopted recommendations by the from Smarter Balanced, the article reports.