News You Can Use:

Real Clear Education, “Rising to the Challenge of New Tests”: Peter Cunningham, executive director of Education Post, writes that when states release results from new assessments this fall, they will provide a more accurate measure of student progress at levels that truly reflect preparedness. Despite fewer students meeting proficiency, “it’s likely that the scores will start rising again as students and teachers get used to the higher standards and rise to the challenge,” which is happening already in some states. Cunningham uses Washington state as an example to show most states self-reported proficiency scores well above NAEP, giving families a misleading picture of student readiness. “Students are meeting the challenge presented by the higher standards,” Cunningham says. “For all the drama around the standards being too high and the tests being too hard, many teachers and students are rapidly acclimating to the more rigorous standards…We should be grateful that, with these new tests, we’re much closer to knowing if our children are truly on track to success.”

What It Means: Like the Honesty Gap analysis, Cunningham points out that before states adopted and began testing to high academic expectations, most were guilty of inflating proficiency scores and lowering the bar for students. The new assessments hold classrooms to levels that ensure that students are truly ready for higher levels of learning, and if not, that they get the support they need to get back on track. That honest evaluation ensures students have the resources they need to graduate high school ready for college or a career.

Achieve the Core, “Mathematics in the Common Core Classroom”: Jana Bryant, a Kentucky math specialist, writes that Common Core State Standards have provided “clear, specific and focused” benchmarks to help guide math instruction. As a result, she sees greater focus, coherence and rigor in the classrooms she oversees. “It is important that the materials we are using ensure that students learn all of the content for their given grade level,” Bryant says. “Materials allow teachers to design lesson and units that carefully connect new content and skills to those learned earlier in the year or in pervious grades…Now that we have a focused set of standards, our students are given ample time and opportunity to develop conceptual understanding. Learning mathematics will no longer be about relying on meaningless procedures or mnemonics.

What It Means: As Bryant points out, Common Core State Standards provide clear learning goals that create a logical progression for students. In math, the standards introduce students to multiple problem-solving methods, in addition to traditional techniques like memorization and standard algorithms, to help student develop a conceptual understanding of numbers and function. By doing so, and setting consistently high expectations for all students, the standards ensure that more students will graduate high school ready for college or career. A study last fall by Scholastic found 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 improvements in the country.

Chalkbeat Tennessee, “State Officials Walk Fine Line of Praising Test Scores and Bracing for Drops Next Year”: On Wednesday, the Tennessee Department of Education issued a press release identifying a host of gains from the state’s latest test results, including: most students passed the math test in four times as many school districts as in 2011, and more than 80 percent of districts posted elementary and middle school math gains. At the same time, state officials have cautioned that fewer students may meet proficiency levels next year when students are held to higher levels espoused by the Common Core. “There is an expectation that proficiency will go down, because we are moving forward,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen. “But we hope that’s a one year story.” “The messaging of improvement is really important,” said former Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. “Teachers and principals work really hard, and I think we can give credit even when we know it’s a long race.”

What It Means: New high-quality assessments being adopted by states set a new baseline for student readiness, giving parents and teachers a more accurate measure of how well their students are really doing. These new assessments help ensure that students are on track to graduate high school prepared for college and career, and that they can get the support they need if they get off course. As the Honesty Gap made clear, early adopter states have begun to see improvements in student outcomes.


Correcting the Record:

Education Week, “A Few Lessons that AP U.S. History Can Teach the Common Core”: In response to the new framework released by the College Board for Advanced Placement U.S. History exams, Rick Hess writes “that there are some intriguing parallels to the Common Core kerfuffle.” “The College Board seems to have learned from, benefited from, and largely defused the blowback…while the Common Core’s path looks quite different.” Hess says because “it has never been quite clear who would make any adjustments or is manning the complaint desk” it has been difficult for individuals to support the Common Core Standards, and because “the machinery was up and running,” it is more difficult to make corrections. The piece adds that advocates of the Common Core have not responded well to criticisms and dismissed skeptics’ concerns. “It seems clear that some of the very elements credited for the Common Core’s initial success…have hampered the ability of advocates to respond constructively to critics.”

Where They Went Wrong: Hess makes a valid point that implementation of the Common Core State Standards has not been flawless. As with any meaningful reform, there have been bumps along the way. Contrary to Hess’ point, states have taken ownership of the Common Core, reviewing the standards, refining and building on them, and putting their stamp of ownership on it. State and local officials have always and continue to have control over the Common Core. Parents or teachers with concerns can take those concerns directly to their school boards for answers. While one state – Oklahoma – has truly replaced the Common Core, after two national elections most continue to use the standards or some nearly identical version. As Karen Nussle wrote recently, that’s because it is impossible to draft college- and career-ready standards that look nothing like Common Core.


On Our Reading List:

Argus Leader, “Common Core Naysayers Losing Special Session Push”: Efforts by a small group of South Dakota lawmakers to convene a special session to review financial concerns about the state’s Common Core standards appear doomed. A Wednesday vote found the measure was short of support, 67-13, with 25 lawmakers not voting. “What that did was sort away the representatives from the politicians,” says State Rep. Elizabeth May, an outspoken critic of Common Core State Standards. “They don’t want to ruffle the governor’s feathers, they don’t want to ruffle the leaders’ feathers.” State Sen. Deb Soholt, who co-chairs the task force responsible for overseeing budget issues, says she appreciates Rep. May’s and her group’s efforts, but curriculum funding was not on the agenda. The special session, were it successful, would have met on August 17.

Associated Press, “Arkansas Panel Finalizing Common Core Recommendations”: The task force initiated by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson will meet at the state Capitol on Thursday to finalize its recommendations about the state’s Common Core standards. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, who heads the Governor’s Council on Common Core Review, said earlier this week that he’ll recommend Arkansas keep some elements of the standards but rename them and change parts.