News You Can Use:

Education Post, “A Dear John (Oliver) Letter: How He Broke My Heart Over Standardized Testing”: In response to a Last Week Tonight segment on student assessments, Valentina Korkes, deputy director of policy at Education Post, writes: “Despite all [the] love, as someone who works in education policy, I’m frustrated by your latest segment on standardized testing.” “You make some fair points, to be sure,” Korkes says, but those examples are the exceptions, not the rule. “You ignore the socioeconomic implications of the opt-out movement,” the piece says, noting that efforts to refuse tests have been disproportionately high in affluent areas. “You mislead on federal, state and local policy,” it adds. “It is misleading to act as though [individual situations are] the fault of standardized testing as a whole, or even a common practice.” Korkes notes assessments have helped improve graduation rates, NAEP and AP scores, and reduce drop-out factories. They’ve helped expose achievement gaps and provide teachers with valuable data. There’s still a lot of work to be done to make sure every student gets an opportunity for a quality education, Korkes concludes, “John, stop hurting my heart.”

What It Means: Korkes calls out the misconceptions that are accepted as fact in John Oliver’s segment. Student assessments are one of the most important tools educators and parents have to measure student development, and over the past decade they have made huge stride to create greater educational equity. New high-quality assessments give a more accurate measure of student learning, and will help better identify student needs. While they do ask more of students, these tests will hold schools accountable for ensuring that all students are held to high academic expectations that prepare them for college or a career.

The Edvocate, ““How Common Core Levels the K-12 Playing Field”: When children don’t have access to a quality education, they can’t develop the skills they will need at later stages of their academic careers. Initiatives like the Common Core State Standards ensure that more students are held to the same benchmarks and thereby have better access to those resources, writes Matthew Lynch. Noting that the standards do not push a particular curriculum, the piece says that the business community supports the standards because “there is a belief that Common Core will make a difference when it comes to our future workforce and that matters now.” A video from the Committee for Economic Development adds that prior to the Common Core, states had a patchwork of education standards. “We have great unevenness in schools in what we accept as quality,” says Pedro Noguera, a professor of education at NYU. “That unevenness reproduces patterns of inequality.” “There’s a lot of misinformation floating around about Common Core,” adds Lisa Hook, president of Neustar. “The standards help “solve the ‘mile-wide and an inch deep’ problem by focusing on fewer topics but with far more depth and examination.” The standards “will also help promote quality and innovation across states as implementation continues.”

What It Means: By setting high academic expectations for students and holding schools accountable for them, Common Core State Standards ensure that more students will develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed at high levels of learning, and to ultimately graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Standards saw an improvement in their students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. Similarly, a Teach Plus study this year found 79% of teacher participants believe new high-quality assessments that support the Standards believe they are better than those their state used before.


Correcting the Record:

Albany Times Union, “Opt for Symbolic Vote of Rejection”: The opt-out movement in New York serves as a vote of no confidence in Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch, writes Gary DiLallo, a Clifton Park resident. “Opt-out has clearly signaled discontent with the over-emphasis on standardized testing, the rollout of the Common Core standards, the heavy reliance on testing as part of teacher evaluations and the continued lack of a positive response to the growing voice of public dissatisfaction with the governor’s education reform misdirection,” the letter says. “While a vote of no confidence on both of these individuals would be symbolic and without direct power to bring change, such a vote, should it go against the incumbents, would surely cause reflection and, absent total arrogance and dismissal of the people and their representatives, redirection of efforts.”

Where They Went Wrong: While parents’ concerns about over-testing are valid, efforts to have students refuse tests undermine schools’ efforts to hold students to rigorous education standards. High-quality assessments provide a more accurate measure of student development and help teachers identify and address learning needs. Because the tests require students to demonstrate understanding, they mitigate incentives to teach to the test and ensure that students are on the path to college- and career-readiness.


On Our Reading List:

US News and World Report, “No Inequality Left Behind”: Andrew Rotherham, cofounder of Bellwether Education Partners, writes: “Attacking inequality is at the forefront of our national conversation, but in American education we are actually becoming more accepting of it as a fact of life.” Noting bipartisan agreement has reinforced the idea that “Washington should scale back efforts to force states to hold schools accountable for performance,” Rotherham says the move would exempt states from “doing much of anything to receive federal education dollars.” “It doesn’t attack key problems that drive education inequality,” the piece states. “Yes, the bill preserves annual testing as civil rights groups and business coalitions demanded. But one might ask, why bother? Absent real accountability, testing truly does become ‘testing for testing’s sake.’…Given what we know about how instrumental education is to economic mobility, it seems an odd time to walk away from federal efforts to level the playing field.”

Associated Press, “Mississippi Board Sets Test Score that Fails 15 Percent of Third Graders”: The Mississippi Board of Education set the cut score for the state’s third grade reading test at a level will about 15 percent of the state’s 38,000 third graders will not meet. About 6,000 Mississippi third graders may not advance to the fourth grade as a result, the article reports. “This is not a measure of proficiency and I think the public should be very clear about this,” said State Superintendent Carey Wright. It is the first time the requirement to pass the test, enacted in 2012, will take effect. Students who do not meet the minimum score will get two more chances to take the test this year.

Denver Post, “ACT to Expand Computer-Based Testing”: ACT announced Friday that it will begin offering computer-based testing in 18 states next year. About 1 million students could be affected, the article reports. Schools will provide computers for testing, and ACT officials said it’s too early to predict how many schools will be ready to offer online testing next year. They added that traditional paper tests will still be available.