News You Can Use:

Huntsville Times, “Redstone Arsenal to Gov. Robert Bentley: We Support Common Core”: In an open letter to Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Redstone Arsenal reiterated support for Common Core Standards, emphasizing high, consistent standards are important for military families that move frequently from state to state. “[Common Core] standards ensure an easier transition for more than 1.2 million school-age military-connected children who will transfer through multiple school systems in their academic lifetime,” Col. Bill Marks, garrison commander at Redstone Arsenal writes. “We want all of our children to be college and career ready when they leave our public schools, and Common Core Standards provide the framework to ensure this positive outcome… Highly mobile families, military or civilian, deserve the same academic standards at any school they attend, regardless of state.”

What It Means: Common Core Standards are important for both military readiness and military families. Consistent education standards ensure children in military families, which will move on average between six and nine times during a student’s K-12 career, have a less likely chance of falling behind or sitting through material they’ve already learned when changing schools. As retired Maj. Gen. Spider Marks wrote last year, “Disparities in what is expected of students puts a strain on military families…Common Core State Standards address these problems by establishing clear benchmarks to ensure that once a student completes one grade, he or she is prepared for the next, and that upon graduation, prepared to enter college, the military or the workforce.”

US News & World Report, “Are New Common Core Tests Better than Old Multiple-Choice Exams?” Experts say new open-ended questions emphasized on assessments that test to higher content tap critical thinking skill and provide a marked improvement over those states used before, the article reports. “To get at what’s really fundamental in the Common Core, the higher-order thinking skills, we need performance-based tasks,” says Derek Briggs, a professor at the University of Colorado. “With Smarter Balanced, the performance tasks will only take about 180 minutes over one or two class periods. But they will be meaty tasks figuring out complex problems and asking students why they made a decision,” adds Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford University. “You have to see the evidence that students can do th things you care about. You can fake it on multiple-choice questions; it’s a little harder to fake it with performance assessments,” says Scott Marion, an advisor to PARCC. Experts agree the long-term results will bear out the evidence. “It will be about finding the right balance while doing as much as possible.”

What It Means: High-quality assessments designed to test to more rigorous standards espoused by the Common Core provide better diagnostics about student development. New assessments, administered for the first time this year in most states, require students demonstrate their understanding, alleviating the need to teach to the test and giving a more comprehensive measure of student preparedness. A Teach Plus study this year found 79 percent of teacher participants believe new PARCC tests are an improvement over those their states used before.


Correcting the Record:

Baltimore Sun, “Common Core and Special Needs Students”: Edward Davenport, a Maryland resident, writes that Common Core Standards and tests that support them provide “no level playing field for students with cognitive or emotional disabilities.” “The slowest learners are given the same test as the most exceptional. Teachers aren’t permitted to change the phrasing of test questions and are monitored to ensure compliance,” the letter says. “Special needs children deserve an advocate, not a cheerleader for Pearson Education. It is heartbreaking to see a special education teacher with 30 years’ experience helping physically and mentally challenged learners reach their sacrifice those same students on the altar of federal funding.” Davenport calls for a “full investigation” of incidents in which students were traumatized by state testing, and “consequences for the responsible parties.”

Where They Went Wrong: The Common Core was developed for all K-12 students, including those with disabilities. The standards offer an unparalleled opportunity for students with disabilities provided that they receive the supports and accommodations they need to reduce barriers to learning. There is no PARCC policy of any kind on who takes the test or an alternative assessment. Those determinations are made by states and districts, and by the child’s IEP team and plan. It is disingenuous to blame the standards or the related testing for a lack of attention to the needs of these students, while ignoring the fact that the standards seek to ensure students with disabilities are afforded the same academic opportunity as all students.

New York Times, “‘Opt Out’ Becomes Anti-Test Rallying Cry in New York State”: New York State’s opt-out movement has “become a political force,” with as many as one in every six eligible students sitting out state assessments this year, more than double the number in 2014, the article reports. Initial reports indicate only 30 of the state’s 440 districts met the 95-percent test participation rate required by federal authorities. At the same time educators worry the efforts will undermine their ability to identify and address learning needs, and that without “reliable, consistent data, children in minority communities may be left to drift though schools that fail them, without consequences.” The article notes, “A potent cocktail of union and parent activism fueled the growth of the anti-testing movement,” and the “refusal movement this year was strongest in middle-class districts.” “The people having their kids tested tended to be more quiet about it,” said one parent. Many parents attributed their decision to opt-out to stress it puts on students, not because of a fear of the results. “It would not surprise me to see New York, or someplace else, go from testing every kid within an inch of their life to testing nobody, ever,” said Fordham Institute’s Robert Pondiscio.

Where They Went Wrong: While parents and educators are understandably concerned about over-testing, efforts to refuse high-quality tests writ large undermine accountability systems, which ensure students are developing the skills necessary to succeed at higher levels of learning. New assessments designed to measure against more rigorous content provide more accurate, timely information so parents and teachers can identify and address learning needs before they become problematic. As Robert Pondiscio wrote this spring, “No one is more invested in student achievement than states, localities and parents. The reform fight is for higher standards and good, transparent data.”


On Our Reading List:

US News & World Report, “Stop the Standardized Testing Circus”: When adults stress out over standardized tests, which often “are not consequential” for kids until later grades, children pick up on it, creating unnecessary anxiety of their own, writes Andrew Rotherham. “Exasperating? Yes. But the schools are to blame as much as any test, test company or public official. When did it become OK for educators to make the tests into such a circus?” Rotherham identifies three factors lending to the frustrations with testing: Capacity, new tests and new technology. “Not every school is up to the task [of getting elementary students up to a specific degree of literacy and numeracy] and…parents ought to ask what’s going on. Is it the test or the school’s ability to effectively teach most students?…Parents should demand that schools ratchet down the focus on tests. No more rallies, no more making the tests the focus of the school week, month or year. And parents shouldn’t tolerate adult stress becoming an issue for their kids.”

Chicago Tribune, “House Approves Bill Allowing Students to Opt Out of Exams”: On Tuesday, the Illinois House approved a bill that would protect students and schools from being “negatively impacted” if they refuse to take state assessments. The measure, HB 306, was passed by a vote of 64-47. The state’s Education Secretary warned the legislation could jeopardize $1 billion in federal funding.

Times Picayune, “Louisiana Lawmakers Have Trashed Bobby Jindal’s Legislative Agenda”: The Louisiana legislature hasn’t taken Gov. Jindal’s lead on any of the issues he prioritized during a speech at the opening of the legislative session, choosing instead to come up with their own solutions, the article reports. Lawmakers have diverged “dramatically” regarding Common Core, pushing for a compromise instead of repeal, which Gov. Jindal called for. “We want him [Jindal] to get on board and we want him to embrace this agreement, but if he doesn’t, I don’t think it matters,” said state Rep. Brett Geymann, who endorsed the compromise. “He is in a completely different place with a completely different timetable,” explained Elliot Stonecipher, a political consultant. “He makes it so clear he doesn’t care and isn’t listening.”