News You Can Use:

Fox News Sunday, “Meet the Test Maker behind Common Core Exams”: In the Power Player of the Week segment, host Chris Wallace interviews Laura Slover, CEO of PARCC. “I think it’s vital we set high standards for kids because if we build it, they will come,” Slover says. “If we expect a lot of kids, they will rise to the occasion.” Explaining that the assessments set a new baseline, Slover adds, “These are different kinds of tests. They measure critical thinking, problem solving, writing, and they actually ask kids to do more than fill in bubbles.” In response to a question from Wallace that the main complaint is that the Common Core and related tests are a federal takeover of education, Slover says, “This is a state driven program, and states make all the decisions from design, to development, to administration,” adding that she wants her own daughter to take the tests. “I want to be sure she’s learning. I want to be sure she’s on grade level. And I want to be sure she knows how to do math and is prepared for the next grade level.” Slover concludes, “It’s critical that kids all have opportunities, whether they live in Mississippi or Massachusetts or Colorado or Ohio. They should all have access to an excellent education. And this is a step in the right direction.”

What It Means:   Slover makes a strong point that new high-quality assessments are designed to ensure students are held to the high standards enumerated by the Common Core. Contrary to the message pushed by opponents, local education authorities retain control over the standards and the tests, ensuring teachers are able to meet student needs. A recent Teach Plus study found 79% of teacher participants believe PARCC assessments are better than those their states used previously. By requiring students to demonstrate their learning, assessments like PARCC provide a more accurate measure of student development while reducing pressures to “teach to the test.”

Real Clear Education, “Eliminating Annual Tests Would Hurt Teachers”: Stephenie Johnson, a former fifth-grade special education teacher, writes that abandoning annual test requirements would put students at a disadvantage by eroding educators’ ability to measure development. “Data for historically underserved subgroups of students would become impossible to collect, and test preparation would foreseeably get out of control during those years tested because the stakes would be even higher,” the piece states. Johnson adds that without year-to-year growth comparisons, teacher evaluations would be dependent on absolute proficiency. “That means a teacher who helped a struggling student starting significantly behind progress several grade levels in one year would not be recognized for that achievement if that student was not yet proficient in the grade assessed…It would also make those tests even higher stakes for the teachers who remained in tested grades.” Johnson concludes, “Grade span testing would not address the anxiety associated with overtesting. Instead, this policy would intensify the pressure for some teachers while completely discharging others from any responsibility – and that would be a step backward for both students and their teachers.”

What It Means:   Johnson makes clear that high-quality assessments are an important tool for both teachers and students. Exams provide one of the strongest tools for educators to measure student development, while also underscoring teachers’ effectiveness at helping struggling students. Assessments designed to support the Common Core provide a more accurate measure of progress by requiring students to demonstrate their understanding. A Teach Plus study earlier this year found 79 percent of teacher participants think new assessments like PARCC are better than those their states used before. As Johnson points out, efforts to opt-out of tests or reduce testing risk making assessment truly “high stakes” by putting greater weight on absolute scores and by hampering measurement of student progress from year to year.

Washington Monthly, “Lesson from the Principal of a Kentucky School that Went from One of the Worst to One of the Best under Common Core”: Despite an initial drop in test scores following the implementation of the Common Core and high-quality assessments, Southside Elementary School in Kentucky went on move to the 99th percentile in the state, with 54 percent of students passing the reading test and 57 percent passing the math test. “We started a backwards design where we developed questions and learning objectives based upon the standards themselves and then translated that into assessment,” explains principal Steve Carroll. “Probably the biggest gains came after we let students start developing learning objectives based on the standards…The key point is it became very student friendly language.” “Our first year, our scores showed a decline,” Carroll adds of assessments. “You took the data of your students’ performance and began to key in on areas that you were not doing well in.”

What It Means:  Kentucky, the first state to adopt and begin fully teaching to the Common Core, has experienced some of the biggest academic improvements in the country. By implementing the standards and new high-quality assessments, the state significantly reduced its Honesty Gap and has already begun to see steady gains in academic achievement. As Carroll explains in the interview, policymakers in Kentucky worked with teachers to smoothly implement the standards and clearly communicated the impact of the changes to educators, parents and students. As the Achieve Honesty Gap analysis indicated, many states have initiated similar steps. By setting high learning goals and holding schools accountable to them through high-quality assessments, states will ensure more students graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career.


Correcting the Record:

The News Star, “Finishing Strong”: Writing about his accomplishments in office and remaining goals, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal criticizes Common Core and reiterates his claim that the standards represent a federal takeover of local education. “I’m also proud that we worked with parents and legislators and took back local control of education from the federal government, putting us on a path to get out of Common Core,” Gov. Jindal writes. “Now we must elect leaders who share this goal, so we can get Common Core out of our state once and for all.”

Where They Went Wrong: The Common Core began as and remains a state-led initiative, and objective analysis has repeatedly dismissed claims that the standards are a federal takeover of local education issues. Despite Gov. Jindal’s efforts to derail implementation of the Common Core through executive fiat, which one district judge said had done “irreparable harm” to students, Louisiana lawmakers took a moderate path to review the standards to ensure they meet students’ needs. This year at least a dozen legislatures, many in the most conservative-leaning states in the country, voted down efforts to repeal the standards. As Karen Nussle wrote, one reason is that it is “impossible to produce a set of K-12 academic standards that both bear no resemblance to Common Core, and adequately prepare students for college and career.”

Fox News, “Mom Says Third-Grade Daughter Banned from School Party for Common Core Opt-Out”: Michele Thorton, a New Jersey mother, says her third-grade daughter was banned from participating in a school party for refusing to take state PARCC assessments. “She shouldn’t be punished for something I did,” Thorton said, explaining it was her decision not to have her daughter participate in the exam. “It’s bullying…She left school crying.” The school launched an investigation into the incident that concluded “harassment, intimidation and bullying did not occur.” Glyn Wright, executive director of the Eagle Forum, told Fox News that the situation is the result of federal pressure. “The federal government’s testing mandates have driven school administrators to absurd lengths in order to comply,” Wright said. “We all agree that parental involvement is key to a child’s success, yet here we see some children punished and others rewarded because of the choices made by parents in exercising their fundamental right to direct their child’s education.”

Where They Went Wrong: Local authorities are responsible for determining policies about rewards for students and must determine how to do so in a fair and responsible manner. Those decisions should not be conflated with the importance of high-quality assessments to hold schools responsible for meeting high education standards. Assessments provide teachers and parents with one of the strongest tools to measure student development and to identify and address learning needs. By ensuring students are held to high learning goals, exams like PARCC and Smarter Balanced will ensure more students develop the skills to succeed at higher levels of learning and to ultimately graduate high school prepared for college or a career.


On Our Reading List:

New York Times, “English Class in Common Core Era: ‘Tom Sawyer’ and Court Opinions”: Despite concerns that the Common Core, which calls for the use of more non-fiction texts, would eliminate classic literature from classrooms, “most districts have managed to preserve much of the classroom canon while adding new articles, textbook passages, documentaries, maps and other materials” alongside literature. The shift was necessary many educators say because students previously used relatively little non-fiction material, leaving them unprepared for higher levels of learning where those texts are used more heavily. As a result, classrooms are using non-fiction texts to compliment literature, and local teachers are responsible for deciding what non-fiction materials to use. Still, reception has been mixed. The article notes some teachers believe the greater use of non-fiction has helped to engage students because the material is more relevant to them, while others have criticized it as “killing the love of reading.”

Associated Press, “Common Core Test Maker Responds to Botched Exam in Three States”: The test development company Measured Progress denied a breach of contract after technical problems forced low participation rates in three states, Nevada, Montana and North Dakota. The New Hampshire-based company said 37 percent of Nevada students, 76 percent of Montana students and 88 percent of North Dakota students completed the exams either online or by paper version. Federal requirements hold that states must have 95 percent participation rates to qualify for funding. It is unclear whether funding will be withheld because of the technical complications. “We still intend to hold [the test developers] accountable,” said Judy Osgood of the Nevada Department of Education.

US News and World Report, “Chasing Clinton, Sanders and O’Malley Court Teachers Unions”: Last week Sen. Bernie Sanders and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley met with Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, in efforts to court support from the country’s teachers unions. “Are politicians willing to commit to the success of every student regardless of his or her zip code? That is the key question that educators will ask over and over again,” Garcia said in a statement. So far, all three Democrat candidates have framed education issues as an economic imperative to create a path to the middle class while largely avoiding speaking about the Common Core directly.