News You Can Use:

Hechinger Report, “New Tests Raise the Bar for Kids, and That’s a Good Thing, Whatever the Scores”: New assessments being administered this year “have the power to revolutionize the quality of education in the United States,” writes Chris Minnich, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “Whether PARCC, Smarter Balanced, or another test, teachers in states across the nation have helped design better tests that not only evaluate a student’s progress, but show teachers and parents exactly where a student needs help so they are able to personalize instruction to meet individual student needs,” the piece notes. “The transition to high quality assessments is an enormous milestone, and a critical investment in our nation’s future, but like any major change, it won’t be easy…These new tests are more challenging…It doesn’t mean students are learning less. It means we have raised the bar for students, and that’s a good thing.”

What It Means: For the first time this year, states are administering assessments that measure students’ college and career readiness at each grade level to ensure they are on track to develop the skills necessary to succeed at high levels of learning. As Minnich points out, the transition represents a reset in the baseline of student expectations, but will help parents and teachers better identify student needs. New exams like PARCC and Smarter Balanced will help hold all students to high academic expectations and help prepare more students to be college and career ready upon graduating high school.

Reno Gazette Journal, “It’s Time to Stop Underestimating Our Students”: Chris Hayes, a second-grade teacher in Washoe County, Nevada, writes that even young students are excited about learning and “hungry for more” due largely to Common Core State Standards. “I have never seen such a spark in all of my 20 years as an educator,” Hayes says. “None of this would have been possible without the rigor of the Common Core State Standards and the strong teacher and administrative leadership in our district.” Washoe County was recently profiled in a Center for American Progress report for providing educators with strong support to implement the new standards. “The standards demand that we build a coherent body of knowledge for our students. From the very beginning, our district’s teachers and teacher leaders have been involved in the selection and creation of instructional materials to fir the Common Core standards…We not only have a say in which curriculum we implement in our classrooms, we also are given the time and respect to offer feedback.” Teachers must be involved and given time to collaborate, Hayes said, which is what Washoe County has done. “Common Core standards demand more. The students demand more. It is time to stop underestimating them.”

What It Means: Teachers are the most important determinant of successful implementation of Common Core State Standards, and, like Hayes, they overwhelmingly support the Standards. A recent Teach Plus poll found nearly eight in ten teacher participants said new exams designed to test to the more rigorous content of Common Core are an improvement over those their states used before. A Scholastic study last fall found 84 percent of educators who have worked closely with Common Core State Standards support implementation, and more than two-thirds said they saw an improvement in their students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills under the Standards.

Huntsville Times, “Does Common Core Represent a National Takeover of Education?”: In a discussion about whether Common Core State Standards “are signs of a nationalized education system,” two Alabama educators and a local parent say, “No,” and argue that the standards are having a positive impact on student outcomes. “As I read comments and arguments for repeal of the standards there is really no solid basis in the arguments for repeal of the standards,” says Michael Wilson, an elementary school principal. “The great thing about Alabama is that we utilize [assessment] data as one component of information that teachers use to extend and remediate learning…I see daily the differences that the new standards are making in most classrooms. I see students forming and presenting opinions about texts they have read utilizing facts and text components to support their opinions.” “School is now harder, and that’s a good thing,” adds Lucia Cape, a Huntsville parent. “I want my kids to be challenged, and I know with motivated teachers and effective curriculum, they can rise to the rigor of Common Core…We need to stay the course.” Finally, Taajah Witherspoon, a public school math coach, says, “Students are required to demonstrate understanding, which is a strong and much needed component of these standards. …These standards may encourage educators to tap into each child’s learning style rather than present a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to learning for testing purposes.”

What It Means: Educators and parents continue to strongly support high, comparable education standards because they promise to better prepare students for college or a career. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt Common Core State Standards continue to implement the standards or some similar version. As the Collaborative’s Karen Nussle writes, one reason Common Core is so resilient is that the public fundamentally supports rigorous, comparable academic expectations and increased school accountability. Please note that this article includes a reader poll asking “Should Alabama repeal the Common Core education standards?” We encourage you to visit the article and vote to keep higher standards in Alabama.


Correcting the Record:

Riverside Press Enterprise, “Parents, Students Work to Master New Math”: Schools in Riverside, California, are providing outreach to help parents with the “new math” of Common Core State Standards. “Parents are learning new ways to do math because their kids are being taught differently under national Common Core standards that took effect in California this school year,” the article says. “It’s causing heartburn and headaches for some parents, who find the concepts difficult to grasp…It’s no longer enough to know how to add two plus two. Students now have to explain why.” Parents were supportive of the changes overall. The new way is better, said one parent. “They think more. They need to understand the process.”

Where They Went Wrong: While schools in states across the country are providing support to parents to help them understand learning techniques encouraged by Common Core, the term “new math” is a misnomer. The math strategies suggested under Common Core have been employed in high-performing schools across the country for decades. In addition to traditional problem-solving procedures, like memorization and standard algorithms, Common Core State Standards emphasize multiple methods to help students develop a better conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. Such practices enable students to develop stronger building blocks to help them succeed at higher levels of learning.

Albany Times Union, “Testing Can Hurt a Child’s Education”: Deborah Clark, a New York parent, says her child is not receiving a “well-rounded, rich and empowering” education “solely because the policies in my district is forced to accommodate create an environment where children are being trained to use strategies to solve poorly-written, error-ridden problems on an incessant stream of mass-produced worksheets.” Clark identifies the problem as an over-emphasis on testing, the “illogical translation of the Common Core” and “commercial ‘test prep’ worksheets.” “In fact, readability analysis routinely indicates the reading passages as well as the test questions themselves are two to ten grades above the tested grade’s average reading level,” Clark writes. “My children’s education has been desecrated by these policies, when educating our children is the basic reason our schools exist.”

Where They Went Wrong: Student assessments are one of the strongest tools parents and educators have to ensure their children are developing the skills to succeed at higher levels of learning and to ultimately graduate high school fully prepared for college or a career. Despite Clark’s claims that an “over-emphasis” on testing is linked to the Common Core, federal law only mandates that students take exams in math and English Language Arts in grades 3-8 and once in high school. New exams that test to the more higher content of Common Core do ask more of students, but as experts point out, they are necessary to ensure that students are held to a level that prepares them to step seamlessly into college or the workforce. A recent Teach Plus survey found 79 percent of teachers said new PARCC exams were an improvement over assessments their state used before.


On Our Reading List:

ABC 7 Arkansas,  “Teacher Survey Reflects on Common Core”: A survey of 975 Arkansas teachers in grades 3-12, which oversampled teachers that identified as Republicans (43 percent), found that more than 60 percent support Common Core State Standards while 39 percent oppose them. More than nine in ten said the standards are more rigorous than those the state used before, and two-thirds said they were satisfied with them. Another 69 percent agreed that Common Core would lead to improved student learning, 71 percent said they would help better prepare students for college, and 71 percent said they would improve critical thinking. A large swath, 73 percent, of participants said they worried the Standards would not benefit certain student population, notably those working below grade level, special ed learners and ESL students. The strongest complaint associated with the standards was about assessments; 87 percent expressed disapproval for the testing involved with implementation of the Standards. Fifty-three percent said Common Core State Standards limit their flexibility to meet student needs, and 62 percent said the standards are less clear than those used before.

Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Ohio Needs to Combine and Shorten Its New Test and Give Three-Year ‘Safe Harbor,’ State Testing Committee Decides”: The Ohio Senate Advisory Committee on Testing decided on Wednesday that the state should shorten new assessments and give teachers and students a three year “safe harbor” on consequences from test results. The committee made several unanimous suggestions, including: combine midyear and end-of-year testing sessions, cut the duration of exams, provide a three-year hiatus before results are used for school, teacher, or student evaluations, and allow the State Department of Education to pick the test vendor.