News You Can Use:

Education Week, “South Carolina Adopts Standards Intended to Replace Common Core”: The South Carolina Board of Education adopted new ELA and math standards to replace CCSS during a meeting on Wednesday. Last year, Gov. Nikki Haley signed legislation requiring the state to develop standards to replace CCSS for the 2015-16 school year. The article notes that “the general consensus is that the state adopted standards that are nominally new, but in fact very similar to the Common Core.” A side-by-side comparison of five 8th grade math standards concludes that both sets are nearly identical. “In terms of domains within the 8th grade math standards, both sets of standards deal with the number system, as well as expressions and equations, functions, geometry, and probability. And both either the same quantity of standards in each of those five domains, or a difference in quantity of just one standard in each domain,” the article reports. “A few patterns might be discernible.” “Once you give them to us, don’t take them away from us too fast,” Julie Fowler, a state deputy superintendent, told board members.

What It Means: The fact that South Carolina’s new standards closely resemble the Common Core speaks to the strength of CCSS. Indiana, the only other state to replace CCSS, also produced very similar standards when it repealed CCSS last year. The Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli wrote last year, “It’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like 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.”

US News & World Report, “Despite Opt-Outs, PARCC Testing Numbers Soar”: Contrary to the student opt-out narrative, state data show that a record number of CCSS-aligned tests are being completed. Across the eight states and the District of Columbia that have begun giving PARCC exams, more than 2 million tests have been completed, and three more states (LA, MA, RI) will administer the assessments this month. PARCC expects 5 million students will take the exams this year, the article reports. “[The exams] measure the full range of the learning standards, including knowledge, concepts and skills,” a spokesperson for PARCC said. On Monday, Colorado Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia said opt-out movements “just make this work harder.” “With full participation, we can ensure that every student gets a great education. We can ensure teachers and other educators get the credit they deserve for their incredible efforts.”

What It Means: Despite the waves that opt-out movements have generated, most students are participating in CCSS-aligned exams this spring, and educators remain widely supportive of both the Standards and assessments. Teachers regularly point to the fact that CCSS-aligned assessments provide critical feedback to help identify and address learning needs, and that they represent a big step up from states’ old tests. As Colorado Succeed’s Luke Ragland pointed out on 850 KOA radio Wednesday, “there is a fundamental importance of measurement, of knowing where students are, of knowing where schools are, of knowing where districts are…and a statewide comparable test is what provides that information. That enables accountability & transparency. … Less than two percent of classroom time is spent taking [CCSS-aligned assessments.]”

NPR, “Ditching the Common Core Brings a Big Test for Indiana”: Indiana is in the midst of “some thorny – and consequential – education decisions with little precedent to lean on” following its decision last year to drop and hastily replace CCSS and corresponding assessments. “Indiana squeezed the normal life cycle of a test – pilot, field, real – into one, massive exam that clocked in at 12 hours,” the article notes. “That’s more than twice as long as the previous test.” Parents and educators have vented frustration at the changes, and educators were kept out of the loop about increases in testing time because development came “down to the wire.” “That flip-flop, the moving in one direction toward Common Core and then moving in the other direction…that cost us time,” said one teacher. “Individual politicians cannot cut their political teeth on an issue this complex.”

What It Means: Developments in states like Indiana and Oklahoma underscore the perils of efforts to replace CCSS on political motivations. As noted above, Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli wrote that it’s impossible to draft college and career ready standards that look nothing like the Common Core.

Education World, “Educators Share What Math Looks Like in Today’s Classroom”: A new series, “Engaging Students with Productive Struggle,” reports that Common Core math standards are putting greater emphasis on engaged learning. “Our classrooms across the district are becoming a lot more hands on,” says Robert Pronovost, a STEM coordinator in California. “The Common Core has shifted how I teach math because I really try to get the mathematical practices – or what I call ‘thinking’ – into the classroom as much as possible,” adds April Pforts, a teacher in Indiana. “I challenge them to think about it, talk about it, and reason it out using a collaborative approach. We focus on problem solving of all types: simple, complex, application, and real world.”

What It Means: Teachers across the country continue to overwhelmingly support CCSS and report that the Standards are helping students develop stronger critical thinking and analytical skills by introducing more conceptual learning in addition to traditional techniques. A Scholastic study last year found more than two-thirds of teachers who have worked closely with CCSS saw an improvement in students’ ability to apply critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Transitioning to the Common Core“Enabling Student Performance on PARCC”: Teachers and students have worked tirelessly to align curricula and adjust to CCSS over the past year, so it is logical they would use PARCC and other CCSS-aligned assessments to measure student mastery, writes Emily Charton. “I have seen the practice tests, as have my middle school teachers, and we all agree it is a fair assessment of student mastery. And it is an exam that I believe will show an accurate depiction of students’ grade level abilities.” “In order to prepare our students to perform the way we know they can, we need to teach how to explicitly transfer skills as well as engage specific exam logistics. This two pronged approach will allow students to become acquainted with the exam as well as enable them to adequately demonstrate their knowledge,” Charton concludes.

What It Means: After preparing for CCSS and related assessments over the past four years, educators remain supportive of both the Standards and exams. Like Charton, educators across the country report implementation of CCSS is going well and should continue. In states like Kentucky and Tennessee, two of the earliest adopters of CCSS, student proficiency scores and college readiness rates have steadily increased under CCSS and CCSS-aligned assessments.


Correcting the Record:

Christian Post, “Jeb Bush: Repackaging Common Core in Iowa”: Iowa education blogger Shane Vander Hart writes in the CP that ads running in the state supporting CCSS seek “to impact the Iowa Caucus” ahead of the 2015 presidential primaries. Vander Hart raises three rhetorical questions: “Why are the pro-Common Core advocates concerned about a presidential candidate’s stance on Common Core;” how can they claim the Standards are conservative; and what data suggests CCSS “are sound academically?” Vander Hart then goes on to call the Standards “a top down initiative” that is “symbolic of how a candidate views a federal role in education.” “If they favor it then they favor centralized education. They favor circumvention of the legislative process. They favor fads and data less reform.”

Where They Went Wrong: Vander Hart contradicts himself within the article, saying on one hand presidential candidates shouldn’t be concerned with CCSS because it’s a state issue, yet at the same that it is a test of candidates’ perspectives of the federal role in education. As Sec. Bill Bennett points out in the ads, CCSS are not a federal overreach into local education; they in fact are structured on conservative principles of greater accountability and state control. After two years of targeted attacks against CCSS, including by some presidential hopefuls, the ads address many of the myth and misinformation to help inform a constructive dialogue about high, comparable education standards.

PBS NewsHour, “Why Some Students Are Refusing to Take Common Core Tests”: Momentum to have students opt-out of CCSS-aligned test is growing in many states, says John Merrow, citing numerous examples of parents and students boycotting the assessments. “Across the country – and political spectrum – a strong rebellion has emerged with one unified message, students must refuse to take these tests,” Merrow says, which could “jeopardize” CCSS. “The message? Tests take away from teaching and learning.” Merrow adds that for at-risk students “all this test is going to do is remind them that they fail tests.” “I think the only people who benefit from this would be those who are selling the test,” says Julie Sass Rubin, co-founder of Save our Schools New Jersey. “Students are certainly not well off from the testing.”

Where They Went Wrong: The report portrays frustrations with testing loads as discontent with CCSS, but states have been using assessments since long before the Standards. Parents strongly support high education standards, regardless of label, according to most polling, and teachers continue to overwhelmingly support CCSS implementation. CCSS-aligned exams are designed to help schools scale back the amount of testing by providing more useful measures of student development, and as the article notes, teachers widely say CCSS-aligned tests like PARCC and Smarter Balanced are a big step up from those states used before.


On Our Reading List:

National Journal, “Take Back Our Schools”: Mike Petrilli of the Fordham Institute writes that the “era of federal overreach in education might finally be coming to a close” thanks to the Student Success Act moving through Congress, which would “rein in NCLB.” The bill “puts states back in the driver’s seat on issues including the standards that outline expectations in the classroom, the tests that would measure student achievement in relation to those standards, the ways schools are judged based on those tests, and the interventions that states and communities will use in schools that don’t measure up.” Petrilli says it’s important that lawmakers “shrink the federal role, demand transparency around results, reduce the authority of the secretary of education, and put states, communities, parents, and teachers back in charge again.”

Wisconsin State Journal, “PARCC Makes Inroad as Proxy for College Readiness”: Several colleges’ move to use CCSS-aligned exam scores as a college-readiness barometer show “higher education is beginning to embrace the fundamental meaning of the common assessment.” Adams State University and Aims Community College in Colorado recently announced they will give students the option to use PARCC scores to determine course-placement decisions. The extent to which higher education agrees with [the idea that CCSS demonstrate a mastery of requisite skills] is reflected, in part, by how widely it agrees to use the college-readiness scores on the PARCC and Smarter Balanced exams in course-placement decisions, the article notes.

Associated Press, “Calif. State School Board Suspends School Accountability on Common Core”: The California state board of education voted on Wednesday to suspend its accountability system for the 2014-15 school year to give schools time to adjust to CCSS. The state will not produce its Academic Performance Index this year, which uses student assessment results to rank schools and identify those that need improvement. School Board President Michael Kirst said the move will ensure the state measures student growth, not just baseline performance on new CCSS-aligned exams. Kirst noted test results will still be reported at the district and state level.

Associated Press, “Ariz. House Votes to Approve Bill Ditching Common Core”: The Arizona House approved a bill on Wednesday that seeks to repeal CCSS and strip the state board of education’s power to adopt new standards. The 32-23 vote came after delays and will now go to the Senate, which rejected a bill to eliminate the Standards two weeks ago. Republican state Rep. Heather Carter said the bill was poorly crafted and filled with problems. “Does this bill now say that the millions of dollars that the taxpayers have funded are now immediately illegal and we have to go back and reinvest, to repurchase material that doesn’t have the words ‘Common Core’ on it?”