News You Can Use:

US News & World Report, “Tests Are a Part of Life”: Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, writes that parents’ decision to opt their students out of exams appears to be largely in response to questions about whether or not there are too many tests in public schools. “Yet, while I empathize with the concerns they have raised,” Minnich says, “I disagree with the process some parents have used to address them…Taking tests is a part of life…The message kids are receiving right now is if you don’t like the test, then don’t take it. Instead, we need to send a message to our kids about the value of critical thinking and problem solving.” Noting that 39 states have taken steps to evaluate the tests given at the state and local levels, Minnich says parents helped affect these positive changes by working with leaders to identify and address the problems. “Rather than refusing to allow your children to take the test, I encourage all parents to help improve the way we test kids now and in the future.”

What It Means: High-quality assessments are one of the strongest tools parents and teachers have to accurately measure student development and to address learning needs. As Minnich articulates, opt-out efforts diminish information available to educators and families, and sends the wrong message to students about the importance of critical thinking and analytical skills. New assessments are a big step towards better ensuring students are held to expectations that fully prepare them for college and career readiness. A Teach Plus study found nearly 80 percent of teacher participants believe exams like PARCC are better than those their states used before, and in states leading the way they are having demonstrable success.

Washington Post, “As States Drop Out of PARCC’s Common Core Test, Faithful Carry On”: Despite several states’ withdrawal from the PARCC testing consortium, many educators continue to support the exams, which they say are stronger than former bubble tests and empower the measurement of student development across schools and states. “This has been one of the best transitions I’ve seen,” says Emil Carafa, a New Jersey principal with 40 years of experience. He adds that the new assessments encourage critical thinking and collaboration. “The whole structure of the classroom has changed due to Common Core.” Despite fewer states participating, a PARCC spokesperson says the model is “sustainable” without raising costs. Carole Katz, an Ohio teacher, says her states decision to change tests is “very frustrating,” but “we’re not changing the concepts behind it.”

What It Means: One of the hallmarks of testing consortia like PARCC and Smarter Balanced is the ability for states to compare how well their students are doing to counterparts across the country. As the article emphasizes, even while some states have withdrawn from the consortia, implementation of the new exams has raised the bar, and state leaders now have a responsibility to come up with replacements that hold schools to an equally high bar and that help fully prepare students for college and careers.

Education Week, “Story Pirates Theater Troupe Takes Up Common Core in Expanded Repertoire”: Following the implementation of Common Core State Standards, the performance group Story Pirates, which provides opportunities for students to express themselves through writing and acting, has made changes to build on students’ analytical writing abilities. The group has also been getting more requests for workshops and performances based on nonfiction material. The group may identify a local issue students are working on and have a student play devil’s advocate, while others write out arguments. Such exercises “sparked an interest in persuasive writing” and provide “real-world applications,” the organizers say. “We tend to feel that creativity is often enhanced by being required to work within specified boundaries,” says Quinton Johnson, one of the group’s directors. “Being aligned with Common Core, that’s often exactly the time when you have to be the most creative, and when some of the most interesting things happen.”

What It Means: The Story Pirates’ incorporation of nonfiction material and greater focus on improving students’ analytical writing abilities demonstrates how educators and others are building on the framework put forth by the Common Core State Standards. Contrary to claims the Common Core limits creativity, the troupe’s performances demonstrate how the standards help bolster imagination and students’ persuasive writing skills.


Correcting the Record:

Washington Post, “Parent: Why I Can’t ‘in Good Conscience’ Leave My Kids in Public School”: In an open letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Lynne Rigby, a mother and former teacher, writes that changes in the classroom – including implementation of Florida’s Common Core State Standards – have led her to consider taking her children out of public schools. “Let’s really look at our implementation of Common Core,” Rigby says. “There is no rhyme or reason to the materials and curriculum. It’s a joke, a joke being played on our kids…Though the Common Core Standards purport to foster [more engaged] education, about 90% of the work [my child] brings home is worksheets, done in class and done at home. Everything I’ve seen this year is stand-alone, segmented. Nothing is deep, there is no time for kids to even consider what is interesting to them…that’s the problem with a nationalized curriculum. Today’s public school atmosphere is all about accountability and not about the actual needs of the child.”

Where They Went Wrong: Common Core State Standards were developed to provide consistent learning goals that ensure more students graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career. Contrary to Rigby’s assertion, the standards put a greater emphasis on deep conceptual understanding and getting beyond “a mile wide and an inch deep” instruction. A Scholastic study last year found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. And early adopter states, like Kentucky and Tennessee, have experienced some of the biggest academic gains in the country, including steady improvements in proficiency rates and college readiness scores. By raising academic expectations and aligning them to assessments that will give students and parents an honest picture of how students are performing, states are taking the steps to improve student outcomes.


On Our Reading List:

UALR Public Radio, “Lt. Governor Says Common Core Recommendations Will Be Ready Next Week”: A committee commissioned by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to review the state’s Common Core standards will finalize its recommendations next week. The council has completed about 40 hours of hearings with educators, parents and policymakers, which included nine stops on a statewide tour, and will meet next Thursday to make a final decision on recommendations to submit to the governor. “We have not put pen to paper yet,” said Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin. “There may well be some recommendations that require legislation. Whether that legislation is pursued, that’s up to the governor; that’s up to the legislature.”