News You Can Use:

Teach Plus, “Massachusetts Teachers Examine PARCC”: Through a “Test the Test” event last fall, which brought together teachers from Massachusetts, Illinois, Tennessee and DC to evaluate PARCC assessments, Teach Plus compiled a comprehensive analysis of teachers’ perceptions of the new exams. The report emphasizes three key findings: teachers believe that PARCC is a better assessment than their prior state tests; teachers find clear alignment between PARCC and what they’re teaching; and teachers were mixed about whether the test is grade-appropriate or too challenging. Seventy-two percent of Massachusetts participants said PARCC is a higher-quality assessment compared to MCAS. Only seven percent said MCAS is higher quality than PARCC. Fifty-seven percent of Massachusetts teachers surveyed found PARCC to be “extremely” or “quite well” aligned to CCSS. Only seven percent said PARCC was either “slightly” or “not at all” well-aligned. Sixty-seven percent of all teachers said PARCC does “extremely well” or “very well” in measuring critical thinking skills. In a joint statement, leaders from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, the University of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Community Colleges and Massachusetts State Universities also express support for using PARCC assessments as the primary tool for determining college placement. “The lack of (1) clearly articulated expectations for college readiness, (2) agreed-upon standards between higher and secondary education to reach these goals, and (3) a consistent tool to demonstrate that a student has achieved these expectations has resulted in an ever-increasing number of students placed in developmental education. PARCC Assessments seek to address all three of these issues.”

What It Means: The findings add to the body of evidence that indicates educators continue to strongly support CCSS and high-quality assessments that support them. More than seven in ten Massachusetts teachers said PARCC exams are a better assessment than former MCAS tests, which are widely regarded as among the best in the country. CCSS set high expectations, and new assessments test what students have learned to ensure that they are developing the critical thinking skills necessary to succeed in college or a career.

Fordham Institute’s Common Core Watch Blog, “Not Meeting Standards: A Warning Light, Not a Death Sentence”: Many critics who “continue to peddle the notion that the Common Core is developmentally inappropriate” misunderstand the Standards’ aspirational nature, writes Fordham Institute’s Mike Petrilli. “The core problem is the assumption that, by simply setting standards, policymakers expect ‘all students’ to meet them,” Petrilli says. “That might have been the case in the past, when we set the standards bar at an extremely low level…But it certainly should not be the case now, or for the foreseeable future.” If a child meets the standards set by Common Core, it indicates they are believed to be on track for college and career readiness. If they don’t meet them, it doesn’t mean they are “failing” or “below average,” but rather that they need to accelerate progress to be able to “take bona fide college courses upon entry or have the best possible shot at a well-paying job.” Petrilli says the Standards are meant to indicate whether kids are on track, and to help correct their trajectory if they aren’t.

What It Means: CCSS lay out a course for learning the skills students need to step into college-level work or a career. If a child falls short of those benchmarks, it doesn’t mean they are failing, but rather provides parents and teachers guidance to identify and address learning needs. By creating that kind of roadmap, the Standards better ensure that more students will graduate high school adequately prepared for college or a career.

Knoxville News, “Compromise on Academic Standards Wise”: Tennessee students and teachers emerged as the winners last week when State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey announced a plan to retain the CCSS, the editorial board writes. The deal will allow a review of the state’s standards to move forward. “Short-circuiting the governor’s review process, which includes numerous educators and lawmakers, would have been a grave error,” the piece says, noting 114 of the 141 district superintendents and presidents of the state’s community colleges called on lawmakers not to repeal the standards. “While not perfect, the compromise does keep the state’s higher standards in place and avoids further disruption to K-12 education in Tennessee. Ramsey, Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell have shown nimble leadership and a commitment to maintaining high academic standards for Tennessee’s students.”

What It Means: The compromise in Tennessee will ensure that teachers and students are not put at a disadvantage by having to revert to old, inferior standards. In Tennessee, one of the first states to adopt CCSS, student proficiency rates at most grade levels have steadily increased and college-readiness scores have made the biggest year-to-year improvement in the country.


Correcting the Record:

Times Picayune, “Vitter Amendment Would Block Federal Government from Forcing States to Adopt Common Core”: On Wednesday, Sen. David Vitter introduced legislation that would bar the federal government from pressuring states to adopt CCSS. “This heavy-handed coercion of states to adopt academic standards and assessments is an unprecedented and inappropriate use of federal authority,” Sen. Vitter said. “Decisions about education should be made by state and local officials, schools, and families – without intervention or micromanagement from the federal government.” The budget amendment would prohibit the Department of Education from mandating or incentivizing states to adopt any specific set of education standards. Sen. Vitter, who once supported CCSS, has most recently said states were pressured into adopting them through Race to the Top incentives.

Where They Went Wrong: CCSS were developed and voluntarily adopted by states, and remain a state-led initiative. After Sen. Ted Cruz made a similar statement about “repealing the Common Core,” media outlets were quick to clarify that there is nothing to repeal at the federal level. States that chose to apply for Race to the Top grants were asked to show that their state had college and career ready standards in place – this portion accounted for less than 10% of states’ applications. States like Texas and Virginia that didn’t adopt Common Core standards still qualified for and received NCLB waivers, as many conservatives point out. A Center for Education Policy study also found that efforts to create materials and curricula that support the high standards are being led by at the state and district level.


On Our Reading List:

Fordham Institute’s Common Core Watch Blog, “Opting Out, Race, and Reform”: Informal analysis of student opt-outs on state assessments in New Jersey indicate the highest numbers are concentrated in “affluent, left-leaning, and heavily white” communities. “The Garden State offers an interesting lens through which to view both the prerogatives and the politics of opting out and education reform…It puts the state’s affluent white progressives potentially at odds with low-income and heavily Democratic families of color, since there is little evidence that such families are opting out in significant numbers.” Fordham Institute Senior Fellow Robert Pondiscio writes, “if New Jersey is a litmus test…it puts [affluent, white, progressive families] on a political collision course with the low-income families of color who have been the primary beneficiaries of testing and accountability.”

US News & World Report, “Reports Show Small Gains after Common Core”: Two reports this week show that student scores on NAEP and college-readiness scores in Kentucky have made improvements under CCSS but “it hasn’t been determined whether those gains can be attributed to the Common Core standards, which most states only fully implemented within the last one to two years.” The article also notes one report, from the Brookings Institute, concludes it is difficult to determine a “starting point” for CCSS since implementation timetables have varied.

Washington Post, “Maryland Senate Expected to Vote on Allowing Parents to Opt Out of Common Core Tests”: Maryland State Sen. Justin Ready proposed an amendment to the state’s FY2016 budget that would protect schools and students from consequences if parents opt their children out of assessments related to high standards. A vote is expected as early as today. Currently there is no formal policy or process for parents in the state to keep students from participating in PARCC assessments.

Washington Post, “Nation’s Largest Labor Union: We Want 2016 Hopefuls Talking about Schools”: Leaders of the National Education Association (NEA) said on Wednesday the group wants presidential candidates to make public school issues a priority in the upcoming election cycle. “We have 3 million members who want desperately to know what the candidates have to say to really, seriously improve public education,” NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia said. The union has already begun its endorsement process and has sent questionnaires to 19 “viable” candidates. Among its top issues is the use of student assessments to evaluate teachers and schools.