News You Can Use:

Washington Post, “Don’t Do Away with School Testing”: Though concerns about over-testing in schools are understandable, the “solution is not to do away with tests,” the editorial board writes. “They are far too valuable in providing information on student achievement. The answer lies in better, smarter tests; that’s why the move to streamline assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards should be applauded.” Noting the PARCC consortium reduced testing times by 90 minutes and limited exams to once a year, the editorial says the changes won’t “diminish the ability to gauge student achievement” and should “serve as a model in what promises to be the nation’s continued debate about testing.” “Any examination of testing must be premised on the fact that schools need to assess student learning systematically. It’s the best way to get objective and timely information on student achievement to let parents know how their children are doing, help school officials identify where to put resources and show taxpayers what they are getting for their tax dollars.”

What It Means: Assessments are one of the most important tools for teachers and parents to measure student development. As the editorial notes, parents are right to be concerned about over-testing, but students are required by federal law to take math and English Language Arts exams in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school – any additional tests are required by the school, district or state. High-quality assessments designed to support the Common Core provide more effective, accurate. And because these exams require students to demonstrate their understanding, the reduce pressure to teach to the test. A Teach Plus study this year found nearly eight in 10 teacher participants believe new assessments like PARCC are better than those their states used before.

PolitiFact, “Bobby Jindal’s Change of Position on Common Core”: The fact-checker site gives Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who “was once an ardent supporter of Common Core (and one of the first adopters of the initiative),” a “Full Flop” rating for his reversal of position. In 2012, Gov. Jindal said Common Core will “raise expectations for every child,” and continued to support the standards into his second term as governor. He then “disowned the initiative,” attributing the change of heart to federal overreach. “We’ve fact-checked several statements that suggest Common Core is a federal program or initiative,” the analysis notes. “It’s not…Common Core remains a state-based, voluntary program.” “Gov. Jindal has clearly flip-flopped on the issue,” says James Shul, a professor at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. “Because of Jindal, the state has made almost a complete U-turn on the standards.”

What It Means: Like several prominent leaders, Gov. Jindal has perpetuated misperceptions about the Common Core to appeal to a small but vocal group of conservative voters, which contends that support for the standards will be a litmus test for political candidates. Yet, as Karen Nussle wrote recently, the public remains fundamentally supportive of rigorous, comparable education standards and increased accountability. That’s one reason all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to use the standards or some similar version. For candidates who are able to articulate the importance of high academic expectations, the Common Core may actually be an asset, and those candidates will not have to explain their shifting positions – like Gov. Jindal.

Chalkbeat Indiana, “Will Common Core Return to Indiana through ISTEP?”: Although Indiana Gov. Mike Pence directed the state to sever ties with PARCC assessments in 2013, Senate Bill 566, which the Governor recently signed, would allow the state more flexibility to use questions from those tests. “Why prohibit us from using questions from other states or from the consortia as long as they align with our standards,” said state Rep. Robert Behning. “The goal is so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, and you can save costs because you are not developing those questions that are already out there.” “As we develop our test, [the law] gives us the flexibility to borrow or rent questions,” said State Superintendent Glenda Ritz. “It seems to me that it is further evidence that we left the Common Core in name only, not in practice,” said former State Board of Education Member Andrea Neal.

What It Means: Indiana’s new law allowing the state to use material designed to support the Common Core demonstrates the control that states have over how they measure student development, and underscores the value of both high-quality assessments and Common Core Standards. Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli wrote in December, “It’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like the Common Core. That’s because Common Core, though not perfect, represents a good-faith effort to incorporate the current evidence of what students need to know and do to succeed in credit-bearing courses in college or to land a good-paying job.”

Albuquerque Journal, “Competition the Common Thread of Common Core”: Noting only 31 percent of New Mexico fourth graders could do math at grade level and only 22 percent could read at grade level according to NAEP findings, the editorial board writes “it’s important New Mexico and other states stand firm on the principles underlying Common Core… New Mexico adopted the standards – designed by governors and education experts – in 2010. The curriculum is devised locally.” Although the extremes of both sides of the political spectrum have created pressure against the standards, “pandering to the base on either side flies in the face” of evidence that suggests implementation of the Common Core will improve student outcomes. A 2012 PISA report finds “successful implementation of the Common Core Standards would yield significant performance gains.” The piece concludes, “New Mexico and U.S. students need to be prepared to compete in a global marketplace, and Common Core and its accompanying tests are designed to get them there.”

What It Means: Achieve’s recent Honesty Gap analysis underscores that for too long the patchwork of education standards allowed states to inflate indicators of student development, leaving young people unprepared for higher levels of learning. Most states, including New Mexico, have acknowledged the problem and taken the difficult step of addressing them by adopting rigorous standards and high-quality assessments. The editorial emphasizes that changing course would undo the progress the state has made and push students and educators back into a system that inadequately prepared young people for college or a career.

Columbus Dispatch, “Kasich’s Core Themes Winning Converts”: On Friday, Ohio Gov. Kasich refused to renounce his support for the Common Core. “I will not back away from high standards,” he said in New Hampshire. The article notes his conviction has garnered respect with voters. “The takeaway: Even audiences who question some of his stances wind up giving him standing ovations.”

What It Means: Contrary to claims that support for the Common Core would be a political liability, for leaders like Gov. Kasich – who are able to articulate the value of rigorous academic expectations – the standards may be an asset. An NBC News/Marist poll this year found most conservative voters in Iowa do not consider the Common Core a disqualifying issue, and studies indicate the public overwhelmingly supports high academic standards and greater accountability. Unlike other candidates, supporters of the Common Core, like Gov. Kasich and Gov. Jeb Bush, will not have to explain changes in their positions.


Correcting the Record:

Orange County Register, “Stop Common Core Coercion”: Law professors John Eastman and Hugh Hewitt write that the decision in Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Common Core lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education “could be as significant as the federal court decision in Texas that halted the president’s unconstitutional suspension of the nation’s immigration laws.” Claiming Common Core Standards and “their now inevitably intertwined curriculum” are force-fed by “Team Obama,” the piece says states must consider their own legal remedies. “Whatever the result in Louisiana, state and local education officials facing the collapsing morale and educational achievement of their students…have to consider their own legal challenges to get free of the nightmare net of Common Core.” Saying federal incentives “poisoned the entire program,” the authors add, “These have always been state and local issues, not federal ones, and the line is constitutionally compelled.”

Where They Went Wrong: The Common Core State Standards remain a state-driven initiative and are a set of academic benchmarks – not curriculum – for K-12 students that allow schools and teachers to maintain control over what is taught in the classroom. Objective analyses, including a PolitiFact examination yesterday, continually reaffirm that the Common Core is not a federal program and that “federal officials did not initiate the state standards for public schools or force them on states.” More than a dozen legislatures, many in the most conservative-leaning states in the country, have rejected bills to repeal the Common Core this year, and after two national elections all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to use the standards or a nearly identical version. As Karen Nussle notes, one reason is that “it is virtually 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.”


On Our Reading List:

Education Week, “Arkansas Poised to Drop PARCC’s Common-Core Test in Favor of ACT”: On Monday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the state will discontinue its use of PARCC tests and replace them with ACT Aspire assessments. The decisions follows the recommendation of the state’s Council on Common Core Review, led by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, which solicited public input on the Common Core Standards and related testing. In a statement, Gov. Hutchinson said, “I have accepted the recommendation of the Common Core Review Council that the state leave PARCC and use the ACT and ACT Aspire, pending state Board of Education approval and a contract agreement with ACT and ACT Aspire.” Lt. Gov. Griffin explained the review process chose ACT because of its “national recognition” and the ability to compare results across states.

Newark Star-Ledger, “Christie Costing N.J. Money by Tossing Common Core”: Edith Strang, a New Jersey resident, writes that Gov. Chris Christie’s call for a review and amendment of the state’s Common Core State Standards will “make things worse” for educators and students, and cost taxpayers. After two years of preparation, “districts were finally able to obtain the appropriate materials for their teachers to use last fall and now that’s going to change again,” Strang says. Noting “teachers can always go above and beyond those standards,” the letter says, “All this change costs money – taxpayer money…to change the teaching standards to be popular with potential voters is irresponsible and dangerous.”