News You Can Use:

Education Week, “PARCC Restructures, Allows States to Customize Test”: On Thursday, PARCC officials announced the organization will now offer states the option of buying parts of its tests and allow them to choose their own test vendors. Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s Secretary of Education and a member of PARCC’s governing board, said the change comes in response to states’ requests for more options, and that the timing allows states to consider the new options as they enter the procurement cycle for 2016-17. “We are beginning to see renewed interest in joining the partnership among new states and agencies,” said Laura Slover,  CEO of PARCC. “We are ready to meet the growing demand for high quality assessments by providing different tiers of participation and opportunities for customization…We [will] collectively work to make the highest quality assessments available to more students.” “PARCC’s high-quality content is among the best in the country,” said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. “State education chiefs need to make decisions based on what works best for their students, parents and teachers, and this flexibility will help in that work.”

What It Means: PARCC’s decision will empower more states to access high-quality assessment materials that not only best meet their students’ needs, but also provide parents, teachers and policymakers with accurate information. As the announcement makes clear, the changes come in time to allow states to assess their needs and customize their plans accordingly. By allowing states to tailor testing resources to their needs, schools across the country will be able to implement high-quality assessments that measure students to levels that reflect what they need to know and be able to do to succeed in college and careers.

Wall Street Journal, “Questions Arise with Common Core Rollout”: In response to a Wall Street Journal article suggesting a cascade of states is backing away from Common Core State Standards, former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer writes that such a conclusion misconstrues states’ efforts to “refine and build on the framework laid by the Common Core” as a repeal of the standards. “As Governor, I oversaw the work to make sure Common Core Standards met our students’ needs. We added to them and put our name on them, just as many states are doing now. Likewise, we regularly reviewed our education policies. Some states have expedited these reviews as they transition to new standards, which is just good stewardship.” Brewer concludes that it is “misleading to confuse” states efforts to build on the standards, exactly as they were designed, with repeal.

What It Means: Regardless of whether they use Common Core State Standards or not, states have a responsibility to regularly review and update their education policies. As Gov. Brewer points out, that should not be conflated with repeal. In fact, states are building on the framework set by the Common Core, exactly as the standards were designed, and with the exception of Oklahoma, the bulk of states to initially adopt the Common Core continue to implement the standards or a set of nearly identical learning goals. This year, most states passed a new milestone by giving tests aligned to these higher expectations, creating comparability across schools and districts. For more about the inaccuracies within the Wall Street Journal article, please see Karen Nussle’s analysis of the story.

Educators for High Standards, “Laurie McCann Explains How Common Core Is Working in Her Classroom”: Failing to set clear learning goals for students makes for “anxious, disengaged students, and unsuccessful learners,” writes Laurie McCann, a special education teacher in Illinois. “If we provide students with a clear roadmap and remove the obstacles in their way they now have the tools to be successful,” and Common Core State Standards provide that clarity. McCann adds, “Formative assessment helps guide instruction. It helps students understand where they are currently, and helps them navigate where they need to go in order to be successful.” Pointing to a picture of one of her students, McCann says with clear goals, proper support and feedback, students are “able to demonstrate reasoning skills.” “Looking at this picture, it is easy to draw the conclusion that the power of an ‘I can’ statement should never be underestimated.”

What It Means: McCann’s example demonstrates the impact clear, high academic expectations have on students. By setting the bar high for all students, Common Core State Standards ensure more students will get and stay on a path of college and career-readiness. Recent polling indicates parents and educators overwhelmingly support education standards that support students in such a way, and study shows that teachers who have worked closely with the Common Core see improvements in students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills.

Correcting the Record:

Breitbart News, “If NAEP Test Scores Suggest Poor Common Core Results, Then Change NAEP?”: Because the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures long-term trends, the “unprecedented” drop in the latest results show Common Core State Standards “are of low quality and experimental nature,” writes Ze’ev Wurman, an outspoken critic of the Common Core. “Consequently, what was left was to undermine NAEP itself and ensure its alteration so it will never again show Common Core deficiencies,” the piece argues. After attacking Fran Stancavage of the American Institutes of Research (AIR) for suggesting NAEP be updated to better reflect classroom instruction, Wurman concludes, “Perhaps, the issue here is not ignorance but rather abusing her personal and institutional academic authority to peddle an ideology in which she – and her institution – are invested. After all, if Common Core dies then AIR will likely return to being a third-tier player in the test market, the position it held prior to the Common Core.”

Where They Went Wrong: Evidence doesn’t support Wurman’s position that Common Core State Standards aren’t working. He puts a great deal of effort into attacking AIR and Stancavage, who aren’t alone in suggesting NAEP be updated. As Karen Nussle explains, “It would be a mistake to equate [the latest NAEP] results with a long-term trend. Many states have been, and continue to be, in a major state of transformation in education – three quarters of states only began fully implementing higher standards barely a year ago; the vast majority of states are focused on supporting teachers in developing new curriculum to meet those standards; and almost every state is working to implement new, 21st Century tests to measure student progress.” Fortunately, most states remain committed to high education standards and high-quality assessments, which are better preparing students for college and careers and giving parents and educators better information to help support them.

On Our Reading List:

Boston Herald, “Massachusetts Education Chief Calls for New Hybrid Test”: Massachusetts Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester recommended that the state create a new “MCAS 2.0” test that would combine elements of the current MCAS with parts of the PARCC assessment. Gov. Charlie Baker, who supports the hybrid plan, said the option would help Massachusetts keep its educational independence. “We set our own terms, we build our own test and we do what we think makes sense for the kids in the Commonwealth.” Others worry the new test would rely too heavily on the MCAS framework and create uncertainty about the final product. “If it’s going to be PARCC customized for Massachusetts, that is something we could support,” said Linda Noonan, director of the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education. “But if it were starting from scratch, with a new test, that really raises a host of new questions.”

New Hampshire Public Radio, “Assessment Results: Less than 60 Percent of N.H. Students Meet Standards”: On Thursday, the New Hampshire Department of Education released the results from the first round of tests aligned to the state’s Common Core standards. Fifty-eight percent of students statewide scored at or above proficient in reading, as did 46 percent of students in math. “This is not new news,” said Education Commissioner Virginia Barry. “Let’s just harken back to two, three years ago when the community colleges said 72 percent of our students weren’t ready to deal with college information…When you talk about honesty, this information is honest, and it’s saying something very different than the former assessment did.”

Chalkbeat Colorado, “Scores on New PARCC Tests Show Most Colorado Kids Failing to Meet Academic Expectations”: Results from Colorado’s first administration of PARCC assessments show most students fall “far short” of where proficiency benchmarks in math and English. The percentage of students who met or exceeded proficiency targets in language arts ranged from a high of 43 percent in fourth-grade to a low of 37 percent in 10th grade. In math, 19 percent of eighth-grade students met or exceeded proficiency, the lowest grade average, as did 37 percent of third graders, the highest grade average. “When we adopted these new higher standards we knew there’d be some sticker shock in the first couple of years,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “We’re resetting the bar.”

US News & World Report, “Our Report Card Must Reflect Our Classrooms”: Results from the latest NAEP assessments indicate there may be a divide between what’s taught in classrooms and the content of the test, and the “obvious solution” is to “fix the test,” writes Scott Sargrad, a director of education policy at American Progress. “Difference in alignment and emphasis show up in actual student achievement…In order for the National Assessment of Educational Progress to continue to serve as a reliable snapshot of student knowledge in the U.S., it needs to measure what’s actually taught in schools. Virtually every state has raised standards over the last few years, but that nation’s report card has not caught up.”

Education Week, “Sources: House and Senate Negotiators Have Reached Preliminary ESEA Deal”: According to multiple sources close to ongoing negotiations, lawmakers have an agreement on a No Child Left Behind reauthorization and plan to name conferees in the House next week. The agreement keeps Congress on track to pass a rewrite before the end of the year, the article reports. Issues of accountability provisions in the bill were a sticking point among some lawmakers, but both Republicans and Democrats say they are optimistic about the odds of getting the bill rewritten this Congress.