News You Can Use:

Collaborative for Student Success, “U.S. Wins the International Math Olympiad for First Time in 21 Years”: This month, the American team won the International Mathematical Olympiad, an math competition among teenage students from over a hundred countries, for the first time since 1994. A Business Insider article notes that the competition tests competitors’ ability to solve real-world creative problems over memorized information. “The ability to move above and beyond simple memorization and understand mathematics at a deeper, conceptual level is one of the primary goals of the Common Core Math Standards,” the Collaborative writes. “The standards encourage students to learn multiple approaches to solving complex problems, to be able to explain their answers and to engage in real-world applications of math strategies; in addition to memorization and standard approaches used in the past.”

What It Means: As the Collaborative post notes, Common Core State Standards help all students develop better math comprehension by prioritizing multiple problem-solving strategies and techniques students need to develop deeper conceptual understandings of numbers and functions, in addition to traditional memorization and standard algorithms. Arkansas middle-school teacher Ouida Newton says through the Common Core, “The focus now is on students being able to think critically and use information not just on being able to perform an algorithm…we have raised the level of the students’ thinking.” Two-thirds of teachers who have worked closely with the Common Core report an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills, according to a Scholastic study last fall.

Crain’s New York, “The Good News about New York Students’ Low Test Scores”: While fewer than 40 percent of students met proficiency benchmarks on New York’s new assessments, the proficiency levels set by the state are the toughest in the country to attain “by far.” Unlike many states, New York’s proficiency requirements for fourth- and eighth-grade math and English were comparable to those set by NAEP, which is considered the preeminent national assessment. “In fact, no other state met the national standard on even three tests, and only Wisconsin and North Carolina had two test score standards on that level,” the article reports. “New York students get a lot of bad press for not meeting proficiency levels on state tests, but it turns out that those levels are harder to reach than in any other state. And that is believed to benefit them…The findings appear to validate the approach of Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, who less than a decade ago led the charge to raise proficiency benchmarks when it became clear that they had become easy to achieve.”

What It Means: The article underscores that New York is one of the few states to have adopted proficiency requirements that hold students to levels that truly ensure they are prepared for college- and career-readiness. As the Honesty Gap analysis found, most states have begun to take similar steps by adopting high education standards and high-quality assessments. These efforts will provide parents and teachers with more accurate information about student development and help to improve student outcomes over the long-term.

Times Picayune, “Don’t Miss Your Chance to Chime In on Common Core Standards”: This month, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) launched an online review of the state’s Common Core State Standards that invites public input and information. “After months of anti-Common Core rhetoric from Gov. Bobby Jindal, this review provides an opportunity to bring attention back to the substance of the standards,” the editorial board writes. “Having all sorts of people – parents, grandparents, educators, business people – look at the standards is a valuable exercise. For one thing, the process will be ‘driven by substance, not grandstanding.’” “If this is intended to be a substantive and constructive process – as it should be – then the criticisms of the standards should also be substantive and constructive,” the Council for a Better Louisiana adds. Comments are being solicited through next spring as part of a year-long review of the state’s Common Core Standards. Participation “might make you realize that there is nothing scary about these standards – despite all of Gov. Jindal’s attempts to make you think there is,” the editorial concludes.

What It Means: Louisiana’s review demonstrates states’ efforts to ensure their standards meet students’ and educators’ needs and the role everyday individuals are playing. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to use the standards. Karen Nussle wrote recently that one reason why is because the Common Core builds on the best evidence of what students need to know, so it is impossible to draft education standards that fully prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like the Common Core.

Think Progress, “Newest GOP Presidential Candidate Isn’t Afraid to Say He Supports Common Core”: Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who announced Tuesday he will seek the Republican presidential nomination, has refused to back away from his support of Common Core State Standards. “We want our kids to perform better and do better,” Gov. Kasich said in a recent interview. “The standards are determined by our local school boards. There is total local control.” On Fox News Sunday earlier this year, he added, “The Common Core was written by state education superintendents and local principals…It is local school boards driving better education, higher standards, created by local school boards.” The article notes that 65 percent of registered Iowa voters believe it is totally or mostly acceptable for a candidate to support the Common Core. Another analysis found as much as 44 percent of Republicans believe the standards will improve the quality of education.

What It Means: Contrary to warnings that support for the Common Core would serve as a “litmus test” for conservative candidates, recent polling suggests that support for the Common Core is not a disqualifying position for conservatives, and may actually be positive for candidates. In the recent midterm elections, at least 12 incumbent governors who publically supported Common Core Standards won reelection, and the standards were only decisive in four of the 36 gubernatorial races. In three of those, the candidate must supportive won.


Correcting the Record:

Education Week, “What Opting In Reveals about Opting Out”: Robert Jeffers, a California high school teacher, writes that the opt-out movement is a “reaction to the widespread testing saturation our students have endured for far too long, and now parents and students are speaking with their actions.” “Once students complete one test they barely receive adequate instructional time before teachers start talking about the next one,” the piece says. “Compound the quantity with the complexity of the new unproven Common-Core assessments, and it isn’t surprising that parents finally have said, ‘Enough.’” Jeffers then says there is a growing “opt-in” movement of students participating in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams. The greater participation sends a different message, Jeffers says. “Testing can provide valuable opportunities to the students who participate…it benefits them.” Noting that the opt-out movement has the unintended effect of providing “less statistically reliable data,” Jeffers concludes a solution will require “collaboration among education professionals, parents, students, and policy makers.”

Where They Went Wrong: Jeffers makes an excellent point that participation in assessments like Advanced Placement exams has increased because students and parents recognize the value in measuring development. However, his position that parents are right to be frustrated with high stakes tests ignores the demonstrable value that the new high-quality tests hold. The Honesty Gap analysis made clear that most states have begun to provide parents and teachers with better information by implementing Common Core State Standards and assessments that hold schools accountable for helping students reach these new learning goals. Early adopter states like Kentucky and Tennessee have made some of the biggest academic improvements in the country. New assessments that hold students to higher expectations mitigate pressure to teach to the test, and a Teach Plus study found nearly 80 percent of teachers believe they are better than those their states used before.


On Our Reading List:

Real Clear Education, “Common Core Politics and Elections: Where the Standards Stand amid No Child Left Behind Rewrite, Post-Testing Glitches”: With presidential campaigns nearing full tilt and Congress considering education overhaul, “education’s latest political punching bag” – Common Core – “is taking bigger blows.” Still, all but one of the 45 states to adopt the Common Core continue to use the standards or a nearly identical version, and no repeal bills have been passed during the 2015 legislative session. The article provides a heat map gauging states’ likely risk of repealing the Common Core. “The landscape hasn’t changed drastically since the winter, as most of the Common Core climate has shifted more politically than legislatively,” the article notes. “That, however, could change as we enter election season and are faced with possible new implications in an NCLB rewrite, and as states reassess testing contracts and consider new legislation.

Associated Press, “Nevada to Pick New Vendor after Common Core Testing Debacle”: Nevada is ending its contract with New Hampshire-based test administrator Measured Progress following technical problems during its rollout of new assessments this spring. This was the first year that Nevada and many other states moved to online adaptive exams. Only about a third of Nevada students were able to complete the tests. State education officials say they are endorsing a four-year contract with CTB / McGraw-Hill. The state Board of Examiners is expected to make a decision at its next meeting.