News You Can Use:

Tennesseans for Student Success, “Tennessee Voters: Keep Moving Forward on Education”: Polling from Tennesseans for Student Success and the Tennessee Association of Business found voters in the state support high education standards, strong systems of accountability and school choice. According to the study, 85% of voters support the current review of academic standards in the math and English; only 8% oppose it. More than 70% of respondents support annual student assessments, including more than 90% of public-school parents. “This data shows us that Tennesseans believe in moving student achievement in the right direction – forward. For example, two-thirds of Tennesseans believe our current academic standards are working and should be thoughtfully reviewed and refined, and voters oppose writing an entirely new set of standards,” a spokesperson for the group said. The full poll results are available here.

What It Means: The polling further emphasizes public support for high education standards and adds to the evidence that support for CCSS is not a liability, as critics have claimed. The findings align with other recent studies, including polling that finds most Republican voters in Iowa are willing to endorse candidates who support CCSS and classroom surveys that find educators who have worked closely with the Standards strongly support implementation.

Portland Press Herald (ME), “Opting Out a Poor Way to Push for School Testing Change”: CCSS-aligned assessments are a departure from the fill-in-the-dot exams of the past decade, the editorial board writes. “Opting out of is the wrong way to force the improvements necessary to make sure the tests are a true gauge of how well our schools are preparing students.” Like many states, Maine students will begin taking Smarter Balanced exams this spring. “As opposed to some prior tests, they emphasize critical-thinking and problem-solving skills over memorization, asking students to explain how they arrived at their answers rather than simply regurgitate facts and figures,” the piece notes. “Opting out is a poor response to a fixable problem.” It notes student assessments help judge curricula and teaching methods, compare schools and districts, and hold schools accountable.

What It Means: Assessments are an important tool to give parents and teachers an honest measure of student progress and allow schools to compare how well they are doing to others in different districts and states. CCSS-aligned exams are designed to provide more constructive feedback so teachers can identify student needs and adjust instruction accordingly. And because they ask students to explain their reasoning, they alleviate pressures to “teach to the test.”

Newark Star-Ledger, “First Day of Widespread PARCC Testing Sees Few Problems, State Says”: As students in New Jersey have begun taking CCSS-aligned tests this week, most schools have experienced few technical difficulties. “We had some district problems, but not many,” said education commissioner David Hespe, who called the first day of testing a “good day.” “So far, test refusals, or ‘opt outs,’ remain low, according to a sampling of schools,” the article reports. It cites three schools where one-percent or fewer of students opted out of testing. “I think parents, in the end, understood just how valuable this test is going to be to them and their child to learn so much about their child’s educational needs,” Hepse said.

What It Means: Despite reports students are opting out of CCSS-aligned assessments en masse, participation in most states and districts remains strong. As Hepse points out, most parents recognize the value of measuring student progress and support exams that provide an accurate evaluation. CCSS-aligned tests are designed to provide more informed feedback so schools can gradually devote less time to testing.

Chicago Sun Times, “Common Core Foes Losing the Fight – and That’s Good”: Despite “all the sound and fury,” attacks against CCSS have largely failed to convince states to abandon their support, writes Anne Kim, editor of Republic 3.0. “Common Core remains intact because it’s good policy. In a political landscape littered with the victims of ideological warfare, this is one battle where common sense is prevailing over demagoguery.” Kim points out the Standards are the “product of a state-driven process” and “have the staunch support of the business community.” “But perhaps the most significant hurdle for Common Core opponents is that they’ve posited no practical alternative to its repeal, thereby rendering their ‘opposition’ substantively meaningless.”

What It Means: After nearly two years of targeted attacks, most states continue to remain committed to CCSS. All but one of 45 states to initially adopt the Standards continue to use them or some nearly identical, rebranded version. In the past two week, Republican-controlled legislatures in some of the country’s most conservative states have rejected bills seeking to repeal CCSS, including Arizona, North Dakota and South Dakota. As Mike Petrilli wrote, one reason is that it is “impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.”

Winston-Salem Journal, “A Teacher’s Perspective on Revising Common Core”: North Carolina fourth-grade teacher Michaela Rogers writes that for educators the fact some decisions about CCSS “are becoming further removed from the classroom” and more politicized raises alarm. “I believe it’s important for the public to be informed about the issues by someone who is currently teaching in a public school,” Rogers says. “We should consider some of the aspects of the standards that worked well for teachers.” She points to the simplicity of CCSS and the ability of teachers to make decisions about how best to teach students. “With the flexibility that Common Core afforded teachers, we were able to reach even the most reluctant learners by identifying their interests and capitalizing on them.” Rogers says that kind of flexibility is key to the success of any set of standards. “We need flexibility if we hope to meet the needs of all learners.”

What It Means: CCSS set clear, concise learning goals at each grade level and give teachers and local authorities full control to determine how best to achieve them. Rogers notes that kind of flexibility is critical to improving student outcomes. Like Rogers, most teachers who have worked closely with CCSS support their implementation and say they have seen improvements in students’ critical thinking and analytical skills.

Times Picayune, “Teacher Sees Benefits of Common Core Playing Out in Classroom”: Under old standards, Angelle Lailhengue spent her time as a teacher instructing students on a “limited list of narrow skills” and preparing for multiple choice tests. Lailhengue says under CCSS all that has changed. “There is a discernible difference between where I was 10 years ago and where my teachers are today,” she writes. “They aren’t just thinking about promoting students to the next grade level…they are considering if the work their students are doing is preparing them for college and careers.” Now “test prep” involves independent student reading, collaborative discussion about complex texts, and attention to writing. It means “deeper thinking and learning analyzing and understanding text, problem solving and complex thinking.” With CCSS-aligned assessments, “we will be able to measure…how well our students are mastering the critical thinking skills that will prepare them for college and career,” Lailhengue concludes.

What It Means: Unlike most states’ previous education standards, CCSS set clear learning goals and give teachers the flexibility to determine how best to achieve them. The Standards put a greater emphasis on how students arrive at an answer, not simply if they get it right, and they promote multiple problem-solving strategies to help students develop deeper content understanding. As Lailhengue notes, CCSS-aligned tests alleviate pressure to teach to the test and provide a more accurate measure of student progress.


Correcting the Record:

Deseret News, “Common Core Test Erode Parental Rights”: Computer-adaptive assessments threaten student privacy and parental oversight, writes Jakell Sullivan of Return to Parental Rights, a Utah-based grassroots group. “We now live in an era where influential third parties and federal reformers believe they should have the power to assess cognitive and non-cognitive attributes, i.e., student behaviors, values and beliefs. Computer-adaptive assessments made that possible,” Sullivan says. Sullivan contends federal authorities pushed “states toward using stealth assessments embedded in learning platforms” to collect student data and challenge local control. “Return to Parental Rights urges investigative journalism and honest debate about what the four federal reforms tied to the standards mean for local education control and parental rights.”

Where They Went Wrong: CCSS-aligned assessments provide parents and educators with better information about student progress to help inform instruction and compare student outcomes. They are not the big-government, big-business takeover Sullivan alleges. CCSS-aligned exams add no new data collection requirements, and student information is guarded under the same protections as before. As education experts like Sec. Bill Bennett have repeated pointed out, CCSS began as, and remain, a state-led effort and do not erode local control of education.


On Our Reading List:

Wall Street Journal, “Common Core Supporters Run Ads in Iowa”: The Collaborative for Student Success has begun running radio and print ads in support of CCSS in Iowa, and will launch a television spot next week, the article reports. The ads are the first supporting the Standards in Iowa, which hosts the first presidential caucuses. “This ad is the first of what we expect will be a longer, more sustained effort to get the facts out on Common Core and hold accountable presidential candidates that employ misleading and inaccurate rhetoric to describe Common Core,” a Collaborative spokesperson explained. “These sound academic standards are worth fighting for. Let’s go back to the original, conservative understanding of Common Core,” Bennett says in the ad. The full audio is available here.

Reuters, “Computerized School Testing Off to a Rocky Start in Florida”: Several of Florida’s largest school districts suspended CCSS-aligned testing because of software malfunctions. About half of Florida’s school districts reported problems with online testing on Monday, the article says. The Miami-Dade County chief academic officer called the tests an “epic fail” on Twitter. “We remain determined in our decision to maintain assessments suspended for today until such time that the state can confirm and assure us that their system are a complete go,” district superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.

New Orleans Advocate, “School Board to Reopen Debate on Common Core Exams”: On Thursday the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) will reopen debate over the use of CCSS-aligned exams in the state. Most students in the state will begin taking the exams for the first time March 16-20. The BESE will consider requiring that state superintendent John White provide a report to the panel after the tests on the participation rate and whether any BESE action is needed to address the issue. White has said he favors that option and that officials will know in June how many students skipped the tests.