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News You Can Use:

Huffington Post, “For College Readiness, PARCC Is Best”: As an 11th grade English teacher in Massachusetts, Kalimah Rahim says it is not uncommon for her to see students “do well on the MCAS and then struggle in college.” “It’s clear to me that passing MCAS does not guarantee college or career success, and the new PARCC test is the best tool to assess my students’ college and career readiness,” Rahim writes. “PARCC pushes and prepares students to critically think and demonstrate what they know and understand about core academic subjects and make connections to their world.” PARCC tests are also good for highest-needs students because the depth of questions helps to focus thinking, Rahim adds. As the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education considers which test to use going forward, members “should recognize that PARCC is the right test,” rather than “the lower bar of MCAS and the limbo we’d be in while waiting for MCAS 2.0.”

What It Means: While Massachusetts officials must determine which assessment best meets its students’ needs, evidence suggests PARCC provides a better measure of educational progress. A recent Mathematica study concludes PARCC is “significantly better” at predicting students’ ability to earn “B” and higher grades in college, and students who met proficiency benchmarks on PARCC were less likely to require college remediation than those who met the same target on MCAS. Whatever their decision, Massachusetts policymakers should ensure that assessments measure student progress toward levels that reflect college- and career-readiness and provide parents and teachers with accurate information.

Louisville Courier-Journal, “Standards Should Be about Students, Not Elections”: Criticism of Common Core State Standards are difficult to understand, especially considering “they have produced some solid success stories in our classrooms, where it ought to matter most, writes Lydia Burns, a Kentucky high-school senior. “At least some of the political rhetoric against the standards is based on the faulty premise that they are a federal mandate and fly in the face of states’ rights.” Burns says she takes offense that students and teachers have largely been excluded from discussion about improving classroom expectations. “Education policy should revolve around students, not the whims of an election cycle.” Despite imperfect implementation, “Kentucky students and teachers can agree that Kentucky’s academic standards are good for the type of deeper learning we will need in order to succeed after high school.” Burns concludes, “More rigorous…are more than a good thing, they are a necessity.”

What It Means: Burns underscores the broad support students and educators have for high education standards that fully equip young people for high levels of learning. Recent polling confirms parents and the public overwhelmingly support academic expectations that prepare students for college and careers, and as Mike Petrilli wrote last year, “It is impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.” That is one reason why states continue to implement Common Core State Standards. After two national elections, all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to use it, or a very similar set of standards.

NBC 7 San Diego, “Common Core Tougher for Parents: School Official”: While changes under Common Core State Standards may be unfamiliar to parents, officials in California say the higher expectations will help fully prepare students for college and careers. “What Common Core is, is higher expectations for kids,” says Music Watson, a representative from the San Diego County Office of Education. “You really can’t argue with kids wanting to come out of school not just knowing two plus two is four, but understanding the concept behind how to get there.” Results from assessments aligned to the Common Core, which show fewer students met or exceeded proficiency benchmarks, have escalated parents’ concerns. But Watson explains, “It’s a new assessment. We’re teaching completely different things, you can’t compare them to the old tests.” She adds that students “are really excited about [the new standards].” “We all want to see students succeed. The real key is making sure that parents are involved and have the opportunity to ask questions and figure out how to meet their individual student’s needs.”

What It Means While changes in math instruction may be concerning to parents who grew up under older models of education, Common Core State Standards help students develop a conceptual understanding of numbers and functions, which better equips them to succeed at high levels of learning. But make no mistake about it, the Common Core still requires 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. A blog by the Collaborative for Student Success notes, “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.” A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Correcting the Record:

Fox News, GOP Debate: What Parents Want to Hear about Education”: Ahead of Tuesday’s Republican presidential debate, Fox News reported that in “order to break through on education” parents would expect to hear candidates lay out a plan to “end the slow creep of the federal government into local classrooms.” “The Obama administration bribed states to accept Common Core,” the article added. Yet, during the two hour main-stage event none of the candidates attacked the Common Core State Standards. Sen. Marco Rubio, the only candidate to speak on education issues, advocated for increased “vocational education,” and said too many young people amass “thousands of dollars in student loans for a degree that doesn’t lead to a job.”

Where They Went Wrong: While the term “Common Core” may still rally a small group of activists, voters and candidates alike seem to agree: high, comparable education standards are here to stay. Through nine hours of presidential debates, the Common Core has been discussed for less than a few minutes, and even then the candidates agreed on the importance of rigorous expectations and continued local control. Karen Nussle explains that while mischaracterizations has distorted perceptions of the Common Core, parents and the public overwhelmingly support college- and career-ready education standards, no matter what label is put on them.

American Enterprise Institute, “Common Core Grade Inflation”: The decision by Ohio officials to adopt “more generous” proficiency benchmarks than those recommended by PARCC indicate it is “increasingly likely that the Common Core will not deliver” on the promise to provide a “more uniform scoreboard” about how schools are faring, write Jenn Hatfield and Max Eden. Last month, the state adopted cut scores that qualify nearly 70 percent of fourth-grade students as proficient, even though PARCC recommended cut scores suggest only 37 percent of students are on a path of college- and career-readiness. “For one thing, it serves to undercut the notion that the Common Core was a ‘state-led’ effort,” the authors write. “States are moving in only one direction with respect to the Common Core and PARCC: away.” It’s “likely that [Ohio] will end up being a trailblazer. Politicians in other PARCC states have every incentive to do what Ohio has done…It takes an act of collective will to maintain high cut scores.” The piece concludes, “When it comes to meaningful cross-state comparability, the Common Core is on thin ice.””

Where They Went Wrong: Hatfield and Eden are right to suggest Ohio officials did a disservice to parents and teachers by relaxing the state’s definition of proficiency. “By expanding the definition of proficiency to include students that are less-than-proficient, it appears the state is regressing,” Karen Nussle wrote last month. “Ohio parents deserve an honest assessment of student proficiency.” But Hatfield and Eden’s claim that other states will follow suit, or that “Common Core is on thin ice,” don’t add up. Last month Arkansas officials clarified they would not inflate student performance, and most other states have taken an honest line while setting proficiency benchmarks. Louisiana State Superintendent John White pointed out this fall, “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.”

On Our Reading List:“Teacher Work Groups Develop Common Core’s Replacement”: The third and final installment in a series examining efforts to revise Missouri’s Common Core standards notes educators are helping review and update the state’s learning goals. Missouri schools continue to use the Common Core in the interim. “It has made us have a lot of good conversations with parent groups, with politicians about what do you expect from your kids,” says Craig Carson, an assistant superintendent. “I think there’s a lot of hope in that we have the right people at the table reviewing our local control of Missouri learning standards,” adds Mike Dawson, a local learning officer. Review committees presented recommendations to the Missouri Board of Education in October. “We’re noticing there are some holes,” Carson says. “We probably need to look at those and massage them a little bit before they’re really ready for K-12 educators to grip into them and start teaching them.”

Alaska Dispatch News“Statewide Test Scores Paint a New Picture of Alaska Education”: Results from tests aligned to the state’s Common Core standards, which were given for the first time this year, indicate Alaska’s five largest school districts did better than the state average, but in some rural districts the percentage of students meeting the standards remains in the single digits. State Education Commissioner Mike Hanley cautioned that the change in scores was due to increased rigor on the new tests. “Don’t go out and say, ‘Man, our scores are dropping,’ because they’re not dropping,” Hanley said. “It’s a totally different test. It’s a totally different expectation. They can’t be compared.” Statewide, about 35 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency benchmarks in English language arts, and 31 percent of students did so in math.

EdSurge“Nationwide Reading Report Finds Students Still Falling Short”: Results from the annual “What Kids Are Reading” report by Renaissance Learning are “grim,” indicating the average student is not meeting any college- and career-readiness reading standards. The study found a strong connection between time spend reading and students’ ability to meet education standards. Two-thirds of students who read 15 minutes or more per day met standards versus only 39 percent who spent less than 15 minutes each day reading. No state has a reading curriculum that consists of more than 29 percent nonfiction, though the report’s author notes that number is on the rise.