News You Can Use:

Times Picayune, “ACT Scores Rise for Second Straight Year in Louisiana”: ACT scores among Louisiana students improved slightly, up 0.2 points to 19.4 on the 36-point scale, marking the second year of gains. State education officials, including state superintendent John White, attributed the gain to Louisiana’s emphasis on higher education standards. “By providing access to more rigorous courses and tests for all students, we are seeing achievement increase across the board,” White said. “Our state needs to keep raising its expectations if we expect to compete…I think you are going to see our state really rising up and competing with [other] states.” All Louisiana public high school students are required to take the exam, and historically they have trailed the national average, 21.

What It Means: As state officials emphasized, Louisiana’s improvement on the ACT assessment adds to the evidence that high academic expectations set forth by the Common Core are working. After implementing Common Core State Standards, Tennessee experienced the biggest year-to-year improvement in the country on the ACT exam. Kentucky, the first state to adopt the Common Core has demonstrated steady gains in college-readiness scores and proficiency rates at most grade levels, which the state education commissioner said “show, without a doubt, that we are making progress.”A Scholastic study last year found more than two-thirds of educators who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. By pursuing high academic standards other states will likely achieve similar results and continue to provide parents and teachers with a more accurate measure of student preparedness.

Wilmington News Journal, “Markell Vetoes Delaware Testing Opt-Out Bill”: On Thursday Delaware Gov. Jack Markell vetoed a controversial bill that would have allowed parents to withhold their children from state assessments. Gov. Markell said the legislation would “undermine the only objective tool we have to understand whether our children are learning and our schools are improving” and that it could “marginalize our highest need students.” Gov. Markell has proposed a statewide inventory of standardized tests in order to eliminate any that are unnecessary. Still, lawmakers have threatened to override the veto when the legislature reconvenes in January, which would require a three-fifths majority. “To say that somehow this task force [proposed by Gov. Markell] somehow negates the necessity of this is quite frankly disingenuous,” said state Rep. John Kowalko, an author of the opt-out legislation.

What It Means: High-quality assessments are one of the strongest tools educators and parents have to measure student development; to identify and address learning needs; and to ensure students of all backgrounds have access to education resources. Exams designed to support the Common Core Standards provide a more accurate and timely analysis of how well students are doing, and because the tests require students to explain their reasoning, they mitigate pressure to teach to the test. A recent Teach Plus study found 79 percent of teacher participants believe new exams aligned to the Common Core are better than those their states used before.


Correcting the Record:

Salina Post, “Roberts: Senate Passes Bill to End Federal Common Core Mandate”: In response to the Senate’s passage of legislation to revamp the No Child Left Behind Act, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas applauded the move as a step to “end Washington’s Common Core mandate.” “I’m pleased the Senate has passed this bill that will permanently end Washington’s Common Core mandate and give decisions about what children are taught back to the local and state level,” Sen. Roberts said. “This legislation will restore the responsibility of decision-making back to states, local school districts, superintendents, principals, teachers, local school boards, parents and especially students. We can finally say goodbye to federal interference in what we teach our children in school.”

Where They Went Wrong: While efforts to amend the No Child Left Behind Act reaffirm state and local control of education, Sen. Roberts misrepresents states’ decision to adopt Common Core State Standards. States led development of the standards and voluntarily adopted them, and after two national elections all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to use it or a very similar version. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a federal mandate to adopt Common Core. As Karen Nussle wrote recently, states continue to remain committed to the Common Core because the public fundamentally supports high academic expectations and increased accountability, and it is impossible to create college and career standards that also bear no resemblance to the Common Core.


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Politico, “Senate Passes Education Bill that Shifts Power to States”: The Senate passed a bill to update the No Child Left Behind Act on Thursday by a vote of 81-17, a week after the House passed its own legislation by a much narrower margin. Now the two chambers and the White House must negotiate a bill that can satisfy the president and House Republicans – who passed their bill with no Democratic support and under the threat of veto, the article reports. The Senate bill passed without any big blow-outs, veto fears or lawmakers threatening to jam the process forward.

Education Next, “What Did Race to the Top Accomplish?”: Frederick Hess, education policy director at American Enterprise Institute, and Joanne Weiss, former chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Education, weigh in on the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top initiative and the lessons in the five years since funding recipients were announced. Hess writes that the programs “was fueled by admirable intentions” and “reflected a great deal of sensible thinking on school improvement,” but in practice was “mostly a product of executive branch whimsy.” He adds that while 15 to 20 states likely would have adopted Common Core Standards in the absence of RTT, the federal involvement made it a “quasi-federal initiative with lots of halfhearted participants.” Weiss takes a different position, saying RTT “was designed to identify those states with compelling ideas and viable plans” and learn from them. As a result, 43 states and the District of Columbia adopted more rigorous education standards and began “ratcheting up their proficiency bars.” “Virtually all are replacing their old fill-in the bubble tests of basic skills…with significantly stronger assessments.” She adds, “Contrary to the ‘federal overreach’ label, Race to the Top was a large-scale state empowerment program.”

Wyoming Department of Education, “Wyoming Department of Education Releases 2015 PAWS Results”: The Wyoming Department of Education released the test results from its Proficiency Assessments for Wyoming Students (PAWS) in reading and math for grades 3-8, and in science for grades 4-8. While absolute scores fell, the release notes, “Major shifts were made in the content tested in Reading and Math before the 2014 PAWS, making direct comparisons to prior years invalid.” “These scores are only one measure of student success and the health of Wyoming’s education system,” said state superintendent Jillian Balow. “We know that we need high standards, support for educators, and classroom engagement to see improvement and will be partnering with school districts to make that happen.”