News You Can Use:

Education Week, “New Tools Help Track Common Core Learning”: In addition to assessments, the Smarter Balanced and PARCC testing consortia offer educators tools to help “gauge student learning in real time and adjust instruction accordingly.” Resources include sample lessons, instructional videos, grading rubrics and interim tests, the article reports. Smarter Balanced made these tools available last year, and PARCC will release its materials this fall. These kinds of formative assessment tools offer real-time insight into students’ understanding, says Marianne Perie of the University of Kansas. In the past, teachers have had to piece together fragmented systems since states typically hired multiple vendors to provide different resources. The adoption of the Common Core opens up better aligned options, Perie says. The Smarter Balanced digital library is stocked with more than 2,600 resources and is still growing. “I know the rigor that goes into those materials before they get in there,” says Stephanie Cotterill, a West Virginia English teacher. “They don’t accept things that aren’t well thought out and developed.”

What It Means: The resources provided by PARCC and Smarter Balanced underscore the support teachers have to ensure students are equipped to meet rigorous learning goals. Similar to outreach efforts that help parents understand changes in instruction, states are providing educators with the resources they need to fully support students as they increase the rigor in classrooms. As a result, more teachers feel empowered to meet new learning goals. A Scholastic study last fall found 79 percent of teachers felt prepared to teach to Common Core State Standards, up from 71 percent the year before. Teachers were also more likely to say implementation was going well, and more than 80 percent were enthusiastic about implementation.

KWWL ABC 7 Iowa, “Common Core Math Breakdown”: While a handful of confusing math problems “have been making the rounds on social media,” those don’t offer a “true explanation” of what students are being expected to do and learn, Amanda Goodman reports. “What I have learned talking to educators is this: Common Core is teaching kids the why, where in the past, that wasn’t necessarily taught. It was just, ‘Do this, because I said so.’ Now, it’s ‘Here’s why it is done this way.’” Speaking with a third grade class, Goodman says students overwhelmingly liked the “new way” of approaching math better, even though their parents did not.

What It Means: In addition to traditional problem-solving methods, Common Core State Standards introduce students to multiple approaches. The purpose is to help students develop a better conceptual understanding of numbers and functions. By building stronger fundamental skills, these new approaches help students succeed at higher levels of learning. A recent blog by the Collaborative for Student Success explains, “It’s important for kids to learn multiple approaches to solving math problems so that they can choose the approach that works best for them and so that they develop a full understanding of the concepts before they move on to more challenging levels.” But, make no mistake, the Common Core State Standards require kids to know all their math facts, just as their parents learned. In the earliest grades, they are expected to learn their addition and subtraction facts and to be able to complete them quickly and accurately., “Common Core Thrown Out amid Controversy”: Officials in Missouri are in the process of reviewing the state’s education standards after lawmakers voted to revise them earlier this year. Common Core State Standards were developed to ensure students are held to high expectations that fully prepare them for college- and career-level work, the article explains. “There are parts of the Common Core that did increase rigor,” says Assistant Superintendent Craig Carson. “We did ask students to do more, evaluate and analyze more than we did just recall and remember.” “We got really good at using evidence to support our thinking in our writing and our reading,” adds Ann Poivre, a local teacher. “Kids in Montana and kids in Missouri and kids in Massachusetts were all going to be going after the same target, which was about raising the bar for the nation in public education,” says Springfield Public Schools’ Chief Learning Officer Mike Dawson. But some have found the standards controversial. “What was particularly upsetting to me was the requirement that students leave kindergarten being able to write a paragraph.”

What It Means: : Parents should want and expect that their children can read and write, and Common Core State Standards specifically reference that students in kindergarten will complete many tasks with guidance and support from teachers and adults. While the legislature passed a bill in 2014 to review and revise the state’s standards, it’s unclear how much those will differ from the Common Core. Similar efforts in other states have produced nearly identical sets of standards, and as Mike Petrilli explains, “It’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.” The Missouri Department of Education provides resources to ensure parents have an accurate record of the process, available here.

Correcting the Record:

Detroit News, “Why the Common Core Tests Are Collapsing”: States’ “downgrading their participation or withdrawing from national tests” has derailed the goal of the Common Core initiative, making it “the latest in a series of failed federal education reforms,” argues Lloyd Bentsen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis. Testing time, costs and federal overreach caused several states to withdraw from the PARCC and Smarter Balanced testing consortia. “Common Core is also losing public support,” Bentsen claims. “A one-size-fits-all national curriculum does not work for many students who require an individualized education… No matter how well the government makes plans to fund and operate a program properly, it will never meet the standard of success achieved by private, competing enterprises.”

Where They Went Wrong: Contrary to Bentsen’s claim, states’ voluntary implementation of Common Core State Standards and high-quality assessments has created an unprecedented level of comparability and accountability across states and districts. Louisiana State Superintendent John White said earlier this year, “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline…That is a fantastic success for each state and for America and its children.” Bentsen perpetuates concerns about federal intrusion even though such claims have repeatedly been rejected by objective analysis. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett explains, “Opponents of the Common Core know they can fan the flames of opposition far more effectively with these sensational and scurrilous accusations rather than engaging in an honest, intellectual policy debate.”

Washington Examiner, “College Professors Getting Upset about Common Core”: As students arrive at college “woefully unprepared,” professors are joining the “ever-growing ranks” of opposition to Common Core State Standards, according to a recent opinion piece penned by Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins of the American Principals Project. “A professors’ revolt has now begun in Kentucky,” the piece states. “The massive deficiencies of the national standards mean students will be even more unprepared for college work than they were before.” As a result, professors will be forced to “relax or suspend course quality” to accommodate students who lack basic skills. The Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education voted to end remedial classes, so students who need extra help will enter “co-requisite” coursework. McGroarty and Robbins argue these classes will lead to either lower expectations or increased failure rates. “Common Core’s promise of ‘college readiness’ means nothing if the definition is set not by colleges themselves but rather by the standards-writers. Now that professors are catching on to the trick, their rebellion could go a long way to undermine the fraudulent foundations of Common Core.”

Where They Went Wrong: McGroarty and Robbins conflate Kentucky’s decision to move away from remedial classes with a preconceived notion that Common Core State Standards will leave students unprepared for college-level work. In reality, the standards appear to be working. In Kentucky, students have achieved some of the biggest academic improvements in the country and “made faster progress in learning” under the Common Core. Robert King, who McGroarty and Robbins cite, applauded Kentucky’s gains as a “testament” to educators and policymakers “who sought rigorous academic expectations for every student in the Commonwealth and had the fortitude to stick with it.” In fact, higher education leaders strongly support Common Core implementation because the standards better prepare students for college and careers. A recent joint statement by the American Association of Community Colleges, the Association of Community College Trustees, and Higher Ed for Higher Standards states, “Students should be entering all colleges prepared for college-level work, and that preparation should be completed in high school…Higher expectations starting in K-12, combined with strong student supports to help them meet these expectations, hold great promise for increasing student success in higher education.” 

On Our Reading List:

New York Times, “Conference Seeks to Prompt Candidates to Discuss Education”: Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa and Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware will host the “Teach Strong” conference in Washington, DC, today, which seeks to urge presidential candidates to focus on developing teachers nationwide. The Teach Strong campaign is led by 40 education organizations “that have come together to call on the nation’s leaders to make modernizing and elevating the teaching profession the top education policy priority in 2016 and beyond.” Today’s launch will feature keynote addresses by Gov. Branstad and Markell, and an “all-star panel of education leaders will discuss the path forward around this critical issue.”

US News & World Report, “Is It Time to Update NAEP?”: Differences between what classrooms are teaching, especially since implementing Common Core State Standards, and questions that appear on NAEP tests may indicate it’s time to update the tests, which have remained unchanged since 1990. “Some of these things the kids have never been exposed to,” says Fran Stancavage of the American Institutes of Research. Stancavage attributes the recent decline in NAEP scores to a “mismatch” between what’s included on the tests and what’s taught in schools. NAEP does not test 42 percent of math content emphasized by Common Core State Standards. “If you start getting too far away from what’s going on in classrooms, which appears to be what is happening now, you don’t really have a trend – you’re picking up an artifact of the test not matching the curriculum,” Stancavage says.

Education Week, “Online Testing Now More Common than Paper and Pencil, Study Finds”: For the first time, most states now require student assessments in elementary and middle school be administered electronically rather than by paper and pencil, according to a report by EdTech Strategies, a research and consulting firm. “The shift to online testing has done more for the educational technology movement than any other single initiative,” says Doug Levin, president of EdTech Strategies. The report adds there is still “quite a ways to go” to create equity in access. It also identifies five reasons online testing offers “compelling advantages” over paper-and-pencil tests, including: better assessing student understanding; better accessibility for students with special needs; more efficient administration; faster scoring; and improved security.