News You Can Use:

Times Picayune, “Common Core Review Shouldn’t Diminish Standards for Louisiana Students”: Moves by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) to “take the fear out” of CCSS-aligned assessments “should silence most of the criticisms that have been raised about Common Core,” the editorial board writes. “The standards are not being rushed. The PARCC test is not being forced on Louisiana. The federal government is not taking over. None of that was true, anyway. But Gov. Bobby Jindal and other opponents of Common Core have used those arguments to try to undermine the standards.” On Thursday, the BESE voted to move up the regular review of the state’s education standards and the Department of Education will seek alternative test options that districts can adopt. These steps, the piece says “out to put a stop to [political wrangling].” “Louisiana teachers and school leaders have spent several years working on the PARCC test and preparing for Common Core, so it’s disappointing that there is so much turmoil around raising standards.” Review of the Standards must be done “by experts and without political interference,” the piece concludes.

What It Means: The BESE’s decision to move up review of the state’s standards and alleviate concerns over assessments is a prudent decision to build on Louisiana’s use of Common Core. As the editorial points out, officials should make sure the process is not influenced by political posturing. “The only goal of a real standards review should be to ensure that our students are learning to academic standards that will prepare them for the brightest future they can have.”

US News, “No Time to Lose”: While there are many “reasonable and honorable areas of disagreement” about CCSS, it is unreasonable to say it is too big of a demand to expect children to be able to read by the end of kindergarten, writes Fordham Institute’s Robert Pondiscio. “Early reading struggles left unaddressed tend to persist, setting kids up for failure. Common Core is not without faults, but its urgency about early childhood literacy is not one of them.” Some childhood advocacy organizations have argued “forcing some kids to read before they are ready could be harmful.” Calling such “developmentally inappropriate” concerns a “notoriously slippery concept,” Pondiscio says, “What critics seem to be saying is that Common Core is simply too hard for kindergarten. But that’s clearly not true.” Noting two-thirds of children entering kindergarten already recognize letters and over half know two or more “print concepts,” Pondiscio points out, “The broad thrust of Common Core for kindergarten is ensuring kids are ready to read by the first grade.” “Early reading success or failure is highly predictive of a child’s academic trajectory: one out of six kids who are not reading proficiently by third grade will not graduate from high school on time.” “No one wants to see academic pressure bearing down on kindergarteners,” the piece concludes. But “the idea that reading by the first grade is too much, too soon is a disquieting one indeed.”

What It Means: CCSS set high expectations for students even at early grades, but as Pondiscio highlights, ensuring students are prepared to begin developing reading skills in first grade is not unreasonable – in fact, it’s important to ensure students are on a path to develop fundamental skills for higher level learning. The National Center for Education Statistics notes two-thirds of children entering kindergarten already recognize letters and more than half know concepts like text is read from left to right, which is part of the expectations set by CCSS. By setting clear benchmark at each grade, CCSS better ensure students develop the appropriate abilities at each step to successful transition into the next grade and ultimately graduate high school prepared for college or a career.   

Chalkbeat Tennessee, “Cost of Implementing New Standards Would Be High, Say Experts and Educators”: On Wednesday, state Rep. John Forgety walked back a bill seeking to replace CCSS in Tennessee in part because the effort could cost $4 million, and, the article reports, in reality repeal could cost much more. “New standards – even when they closely resemble the Common Core – can come with a hefty price tag.” In addition to rewriting its education standards, the state would need to invest in new professional development and materials, and economic analysis largely ignores similar costs at the district level. “There are contracts in place on the state and local level for assessments and materials that districts had planned to use to meet the Common Core Standards, and some of that cost could be wasted,” Fordham Institute’s Michael Brickman says. The article notes the cost of repeal in other states could be significant: as much as $125 million in Oklahoma and Indiana, and $25 million in Louisiana.

What It Means: States that have sought to replace CCSS, often for purely political reasons, have run into big challenges. As the article notes, Indiana faces hefty costs for standards that very closely resemble CCSS. South Carolina and Oklahoma have run into problems trying to come up with new standards because, as Mike Petrilli notes, “it is impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.” 

Albuquerque Journal, “PARCC Can Teach Us…If We Let It”: Amanda Kocon, a parent concerned about testing demands, took the PARCC exam to determine the quality of the exam for herself. “I found a test that is ligh-years away from the CTBS test of my childhood,” Kocon writes. “For starters, I had to really think. This is not the mindless exercise that probably pops into your head when you hear ‘standardized test.’” Kocon says the PARCC exams emphasizes word usage and choice, and in math required “not only a deeper understanding of fractions, but that I demonstrate my knowledge in a real world scenario.” Though challenging, Kocon says it is “the kind of knowledge I want my kids to master, and the kind of thinking work we all want our kids doing throughout the school year.” She adds the exam doesn’t allow for students to “fake their understanding,” which gives a better measure of progress. “PARCC is going to help us know that [students] have the academic foundation they need to choose whatever path they want in life.”

What It Means: Kocon’s experience with the PARCC exams addresses many of the concerns parents have, and demonstrates the strength of the new tests. CCSS-aligned assessments are designed to provide more constructive feedback for teachers and parents to help identify where students are doing well, and where they need help. PARCC and Smarter Balanced exams require students to explain their reasoning, which removes incentives to teach to the test and provides a more accurate measure of student progress.

KWQC Illinois & Iowa, “Controversy over Common Core Standards”: In response to claims CCSS are hurting students, fourth-grade teacher Krystie Padilla says in her experience the Standards have helped improve instruction and student outcomes. Padilla points to a new practice in which she asks students to ask question that “demonstrate a deeper level of thinking and understanding” to authors. “It takes them back a little and solidifies that what we’re doing here is great because these kids are creating these questions that maybe a year ago they wouldn’t even have thought to ask,” Padilla says. Other local teachers agree. “The standards [don’t] say to do it a certain way,” said one assistant superintendent. “[Common Core] spells out what the child should know and be able to do by the end of that grade level.” “I’ve seen a huge change in how the students work in class and how they’re trying to accomplish their goals,” added a local seventh-grade teacher.

What It Means: By setting high expectations for all students and encouraging students to work collaboratively and demonstrate their reasoning, in addition to traditional learning techniques, CCSS help student develop stronger building blocks to reach higher levels of learning. According to a study by Scholastic, most teachers who have worked closely with CCSS strongly support implementation and say they have seen an improvement in students’ critical thinking and analytical skills.


Correcting the Record:

The Hill, “A Plea to Arizona Legislators Regarding Common Core”: Heather Kays of the Heartland Institute urges lawmakers in Arizona to “repeal and replace Common Core” through House Bill 2190. Citing voices like Milgram and Stotsky, Kay says CCSS do not set the bar high enough for students, and “do not meet the needs of many students” like those on the “highest and lowest ends of the achievement scale.” She adds the “rigidity” of CCSS forces many teachers to design lesson plans that teach to the test, and says “education standards do not improve student achievement.” “Finally,” Kay says, “states imposed Common Core not by their own choice but because of coercion by the federal government.”

Where They Went Wrong: Experts have repeatedly refuted the Kay’s arguments almost line by line. Fordham Institute and other experts, including Milgram, have found CCSS are substantially stronger than most states’ previous standards. Contrary to Kay’s claim the Standards don’t improve achievement, high standards spark instructional change, which propels improvement, as Mike Petrilli wrote recently. Moreover, states like Kentucky and Tennessee, which have fully aligned teaching to the Standards, have made some of the biggest academic gains in the country. Kay says lawmakers should listen to parents and teachers, and it appears they have. Polling suggests parents strongly support high educational expectations, and as five recent Arizona Teacher of the Year award recipients wrote this month, teachers strongly continue to strongly support the Standards and see improvements in learning with them.

Business Insider, “Here’s Why So Many People Hate the Common Core”: Opposition to CCSS is largely attributable to the idea “many parents and teachers don’t think they had a seat at the table when [the] standards were developed,” writes Abby Jackson. “To parents and teachers who feel they were entirely left out of the process, the standards may feel heavy-handed.” Pointing to “Top Teacher” recipient Stacie Starr, who said she quit because of CCSS, Jackson says some worry CCSS ignore the needs of non-traditional learners. Finally, Jackson adds, “Teachers voice dismay over the lack of creativity in the classroom they feel is a direct result of the Common Core.”

Where They Went Wrong: Contrary to Jackson’s claim, most teachers who have worked closely with CCSS strongly support implementation, and parents overwhelmingly support high academic standards, regardless of what label is put on them. CCSS were developed through a state-led initiative that included more than 10,000 comments during the public input period. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states to adopt CCSS continue to use them or some nearly identical version, which speaks the strength of the Standards and parents’ commitment to them.


On Our Reading List:

NPR, “Why Some Parents Are Sitting Kids Out of Tests”: As standardized testing increases in public schools, so do concerns about its consequences, the article reports. A Rasmussen survey last month found 60% of parents agree there is too much emphasis on standardized testing. The article notes many districts add additional testing requirements to federal and state mandates. “A lot of districts give tests we don’t need to give, or duplicate one another,” says Mike Casserly of the Council of Great City Schools. Wisconsin state superintendent Tony Evers says it’s not the amount of testing but how the results are used. “If it’s used to punish and to put more pressure on the system – instead of tests being used to identify weaknesses and strengths in kids – we’ve morphed into using tests for high states accountability.” At least eight states have moved to scale back testing, and Congress is currently debating whether federal requirements should be cut back.

Hechinger Report, “Opponents of Common Core Open New Fronts in Battle against Standards after Series of Defeats”: Thwarted in their efforts to repeal the standards, elected officials who oppose the Common Core are now turning their attention to who should write the tests aligned with the standards and how the results from these tests should be used when evaluating teachers, the article reports. Noting several Republican-controlled legislatures in conservative states have voted down legislation to repeal CCSS, the article says opponents are now trying to disrupt the supporting components. “We have moved away from just looking at the standards, which is nebulous to people,” says Devon Carlson of the University of Oklahoma. “The debate is moving away from less tangible standards to tangible assessments, accountability.”