News You Can Use:

Huffington Post, “Should Kids Be Allowed to Opt Out of Standardized Tests? Many Americans Say ‘No’”: A Huffington Post/YouGov poll finds that although most Americans think students are given too many standardized tests, many don’t think they should have the ability to opt out of them. 43 percent of respondents said students should not be able to opt out of exams, compared to 30 percent who believed they should. While most participants said students experienced too many standardized tests (51%) and many thought standardized testing over the past 10 years had done more harm than good (49%), a plurality did not believe students should be allowed to opt-out in protest. Pamela Norton is one such parent. “The tactic of opting-out doesn’t solve the problem of over-testing,” Norton writes in Education Post. “Instead it reduces transparency.” Norton’s son attended a top-ranked high school, but after graduation didn’t have “many of the skills to succeed in college.” “Past assessments failed to accurately measure the college readiness of my children, and in turn in led me to be a misinformed parent,” Norton says, noting CCSS-aligned exams measure deeper content understanding and provide a more accurate snapshot of student progress. “By opting out of the PARCC test, parents are sacrificing their right to know if their child is mastering the skills they need to be on track for graduation.

What It Means: Even though efforts to opt-out of standardized tests have garnered a great deal of attention, parents still strongly support systems of accountability. Sandra Alberti, a parent and former New Jersey teacher, principal and superintendent, notes, “Tests serve as tools to evaluate and support progress. Until the introduction of the PARCC test, most standardized assessments did little more than provide a score, so parents and students focused on the results rather than the learning.” A recent survey found 79% of teachers say PARCC is a higher-quality assessment than tests states used before.

Charleston Daily Mail, “Common Core Will Benefit State Students”: Michael Funkhouser, a West Virginia teacher and recipient of the state’s 2013 Teacher of the Year award, writes that CCSS will help students “learn, succeed at home, and be more competitive in the global economy.” “The truth is that states developed the standards, and many West Virginia teachers had the opportunity to adjust the standards to make them ours,” Funkhouser says. “Common Core is simply a set of learning goals – how teachers decide to teach students to reach those goals is up to them.” As an educator, Funkhouser has seen the Standards help students. “In math classes, students are focusing on those critical math skills and applying their learning to real-world projects and situations. In English classes, students are reading text to find evidence that will support conclusions they draw from their reading.” He concludes, “I encourage the powers that be in our state to back up a step and give the standards time to work.”

What It Means: Like Funkhouser, teachers in states across the country continue to strongly support CCSS. A Scholastic study found that more than eight in 10 teachers who have worked closely with CCSS support implementation, and more than two-thirds report an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning abilities. As experts like Fordham Institute’s Chester Finn have written before, CCSS provide teachers greater flexibility by setting clear achievement benchmarks while retaining control of how to reach those to local teachers and school boards.

Alliance for Excellent Education, “Keeping Up the Pace with Common Core”: Erica Williams, a middle school math teacher in Maryland, says past education reform efforts have created an “imbalance in the development of innovators and lifelong learners” that taught students how to do things but “provided limited opportunities for them to discover when or why they should do them.” “The Common Core State Standards represent a mindset shift because they define what students should understand and be able to do,” Williams writes. “The challenge lies in closing the gaps between what the expectations were in the past, and what they are now with the CCSS.” Williams, like countless other teachers, has spent a great deal of time and energy preparing for CCSS. “Quick fixes won’t get us where we need to go,” Williams says. “Although media experts and political officials may rely on summative data to justify educational reform, many educators find formative assessments to have a much greater impact on their day-to-day instruction…If we don’t establish a healthy pace along the way, our ambitions will look more like the choppy steps of a fatigues athlete instead of the natural strides of a confident leader.”

What It Means: Opponents of CCSS are seeking to repeal and replace the Standards before they have a chance to work. Most states are only in their first year of fully teaching to the Standards; to revert back to states’ old standards would undo the preparation of teachers and students ,and create greater uncertainty in classrooms. Like Williams, teachers continue to strongly support implementation of CCSS, and more than two-thirds of teachers who have worked closely with the Standards say they have seen an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Idaho Statesman, “Idaho Core Teacher Program Worthy of Further Investment”: Idaho’s Core Teacher Program, which provides development resources to help students and teachers get “ahead of the Common Core implementation curve,” is an “enormously beneficial program” that lawmakers should continue to support, writes Kate Keinert, a district instructional coach. “Our experience with the Idaho Core Teacher Program is largely the reason that we are prepared and valued for our teaching expertise,” Keinert says. “We use the knowledge we have gained from the ICT program on a daily basis – in conversations with teachers, delivery of local professional development, and discussions with administrators…The Idaho Core Teacher Program will place Idaho one step ahead of the nationwide pack of states participating in Common Core.”

What It Means: Many states like Idaho have developed programs to help teachers and students adjust to the rigors of CCSS and to develop materials aligned to the Standards. A study by the Center for Education Policy found that in more than two-thirds of districts teachers are designing curricula aligned to CCSS, and more than four in 10 district leaders are collaborating with their state or other districts to craft instructional resources.


Correcting the Record:

Dallas Morning News, “So Pearson Is Monitoring Social Media Looking for Cheating: Why Is This a Thing?”: Picking up on reports that Pearson monitored social media for student cheating, Montel Williams tweeted on Monday, “I’m going to formally come out and say my friend @glennbeck was right on #CommonCore and I’m WAAY late to the party,” linking to a Washington Post blog by Valerie Strauss. Yet, as Jeffrey Weiss writes in the Dallas Morning News, such practices protect against cheating and are no reason for alarm. “Basically, Pearson is monitoring social media looking for key words and/or hashtags that could be associated with students posting questions from the tests,” Weiss notes. “In fact, if Pearson didn’t do this kind of searching and kids managed to break the security of the tests via Twitter, etc., can you imagine the hue and cry?” adds, “The controversy boiled down to an initial lack of detail in the retelling regarding the privacy level of content shared to social media.” Snopes adds the “stringent test security” is “neither new nor novel” and “standardized testing-based security measures existed well before Twitter and Facebook.”

Where They Went Wrong: In order to protect against cheating and ensure that student assessments accurately measure student learning, Pearson monitored publicly available social media. Objective analyses like those above confirm that such practices are nothing new and are necessary to make sure students don’t use social media to cheat or help others gain an unfair advantage.

North Carolina Public Radio, “Common Core Critics Suggest ‘Complete Rewrite’”: Testifying before the committee tasked with recommending changes to CCSS, Sandra Stotsky and James Milgram told state leaders on Monday that North Carolina should completely rewrite its math and ELA standards. “We need to have first-rate standards developed for this country,” Stotsky said. “You do not have them in North Carolina.” Milgram added that the Standards are “convoluted, involuted and way above grade level,” and introduce important math concepts too late. Stotsky recommended that the state adopt other high-rated standards, like those California or Massachusetts used before, and Milgram suggested a “complete rewrite.” Jere Confrey, a math professor at NC State and a member of the CCSS Validation Committee, disagreed. “We reviewed international standards, we reviewed data from different groups that do research on how kids learn, we heard from teachers, we went the standards out to the states and got responses,” Confrey said. “We can’t afford to stay in a state of limbo right now.”

Where They Went Wrong: Stotsky and Milgram have long criticized CCSS, yet experts roundly agree that the Standards are a big step up from states’ old academic requirements. As Confrey points out, the Standards underwent a rigorous review process and were measured against top-performing countries and the best data available. As Mike Petrilli wrote, states like South Carolina and Oklahoma, which went the way of abandoning CCSS, have had a difficult time replacing the Standards because they incorporate the best practices and best information available.


On Our Reading List:

US News & World Report, “You Can’t Repeal Common Core (But You Can Contain It)”: Picking up on Sen. Cruz’s call to “repeal every word of Common Core,” Michael McShane writes that such efforts are misdirected because CCSS are not a federal law, mandate or program. “It is not a law, federal or otherwise,” McShane says. “It is not under the purview of the U.S. Senate, because standards are adopted by states… Even if we read his statement charitably to mean that every state that has adopted the Common Core standards should dump them, its neigh impossible to expunge ‘every word’ of the Common Core from every state’s standards.” He adds that the Standards themselves are not the problem, but the way they were pushed by the federal government through incentives was troublesome.

Education Week, “States Prepare for Common-Core Test Results”: States are beginning to ramp up efforts to mitigate public backlash from scores on CCSS-aligned assessments, which are expected to drop as the exams establish a new, accurate baseline. States “are using a diverse set of resources and partnering with various groups to prepare school communities and the general public for what’s coming,” the article says. “Their goal: to spread their message that the new tests are a much more accurate and complete reflection of what students know and can do than past exams, and in turn will better inform classroom instruction.”

Lohud Journal News, “Legislators Seek to Opt-Out of Common Core”: Members of the New York State Legislature introduced a bill on Tuesday that would prevent the state from penalizing schools in which students do not participate in CCSS-aligned exams, and that would require districts to notify parents of their right to opt students out of the assessments. “What we’d like to do with this bill is deal with one of the issues that is seriously impacting our educational system and our kids negatively, and that is the over-utilization of standardized testing,” said Assemblyman James Tedisco.

Education Week, “Efforts to Overhaul NCLB Law Inch Ahead in Congress”: Rep. John Kline, chairman of the House Education Committee said he hopes that his bill to revamp NCLB will receive a vote this week. In the Senate, both the chairman and ranking member of the education committee announced last week they plan to clear a proposal through their committee in mid-April. The pace of the legislative process slowed earlier this month after Republicans in the House were forced to abandon a scheduled vote on a reauthorization bill amid waning support from members of their own party, the article reports.