News You Can Use:

Seattle Times, “Setting the Record Straight on Common Core and Student Data”: Striking the right balance to ensure student data is used to improve instruction and better meet student needs requires “an honest dialogue,” but critics have obscured that by claiming Common Core State Standards will “subject students to ‘cradle-to-the-grave’ government surveillance,” writes Rob McKenna, former Attorney General for Washington state. “While such Orwellian predictions are effective in raising alarm, they simple aren’t true…In reality, Common Core has no impact on how states and schools collect and use student data. If a state were to repeal Common Core tomorrow, no changes would be made to schools’ data-privacy protocols.” Additionally, federal laws prohibit the exploitation of student data, and that remains unchanged. Common Core State Standards only “establish rigorous learning goals at each grade level” and “keep control where it belongs: at the state and local level.” “Let’s put aside the rhetoric and alarm over Common Core State Standards so that we can have an honest conversation.” 

What It Means: McKenna makes a strong case refuting claims that Common Core State Standards require states to amass student data. In fact, the Common Core has no impact on how states collect or use student information, and if states were to get rid of the standards there would be no change to their current protocols. Common Core State Standards simply set rigorous learning goals for each grade level to ensure students get and stay on a path of college- and career-readiness. Like McKenna, former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett writes, “Lies, myths, exaggerations and hysteria about what the Common Core means and does have dominated the ‘debate’ and the real issues have been obscured…The issue of honest standards of learning for our children is too important to be buried in an avalanche of misinformation and demonization.”   

Boston Globe, “Drop Hybrid Testing Approach: Use PARCC”: As Massachusetts officials choose which student assessments to use going forward, PARCC, MCAS or an updated version of the MCAS, they should resist the “politically expedient decisions,” the editorial board writes. Picking a “hybrid tests that implicitly accepts the superiority of the PARCC test but would allow the state to call it something with less political baggage” would be a “misguided” option “which will likely lead to an additional and unnecessary investment of time, effort, and money.” Last week, Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester recommended the state develop a hybrid test, and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education will vote tomorrow what test to use. “The new PARCC test does a better job measuring student readiness for college and careers, and it was developed with ample input from Massachusetts educators…A hybrid approach promises to be yet another public policy distraction when educational efforts are needed elsewhere…The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should make the hard decision and go with PARCC.” 

What It Means: The editorial makes a strong point that pursuing an updated version of the MCAS will open the door to greater politicization of Massachusetts’ classrooms, while evidence indicates that PARCC is already a strong assessment. A Mathematica analysis this fall concludes that PARCC is “significantly better” than MCAS as a predictor of students’ abilities to earn “B” or higher grades in college, and students that met proficiency benchmarks on PARCC were less likely to require remediation than those who met the same targets on MCAS. As the editorial points out, policymakers should put aside rhetoric and choose the test that best meets student needs, which is PARCC. 

Albuquerque Journal, “Proper Testing Brings Needed Dose of Reality to Education”: States like New Mexico have reached a “critical milestone” in efforts to raise academic expectations by administering assessments aligned to college- and career-ready standards, the results of which are now coming back, write Mike Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio of the Fordham Institute. “The news was sobering: Fewer than half of New Mexico’s students are on track in math, reading and writing.” But parents “shouldn’t shoot the messenger.” “Parents deserve to know if their kids are learning, and taxpayers are entitled to know if the money we spend on schools is being used wisely.” In the past, states “juked the stats” by lowering the bar for students, making them appear on track to be ready for college and careers, even though often they were not. Fifty percent of New Mexico students entering a two-year college require remediation. Tougher tests provide a better snapshot of how well prepared students are, and “parents and taxpayers should resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the new standards or the associated tests…They may not be perfect, but they are finally giving parents, educators and taxpayers a much more honest assessment of how our children are doing.”

What It Means: As Petrilli and Pondiscio point out, assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards provide parents and educators with accurate information about how well students are developing the skills and knowledge they need to succeed at higher levels of learning. Rather than use the change to attack higher academic expectations, the public should embrace the fact schools are holding students to levels that set them up for success. As Karen Nussle explains, “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do,” and for “parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.” 

Denver Post, “Colorado’s New Standardized Math, English Tests Set Benchmark”: The Colorado Department of Education recently released results from assessments aligned to the state’s Common Core standards. The scores show 38 percent of third-grade students met or exceeded expectations in English language arts and 18.9 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded proficiency benchmarks in math. The state also had high opt-out numbers. Only 44.5 percent of 11th-grade students took the state’s English test. “We knew when we were setting these higher statewide standards that the first couple of years there would be some sticker shock,” said Gov. John HIckenlooper. “But that’s all right. Everybody understands you are resetting the bar.” “Ideally we want every kid graduating college- and career-ready,” said Jeani Frickey Saito, director of Stand for Children Colorado. “This year’s results tell us how much work they have to do.” 

What It Means: While the results from assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards may be “sobering,” they are giving parents and teachers  better information about how well students are really doing based on what they need to know and be able to do to succeed at higher levels of learning. Karen Nussle wrote this fall, “For parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.” States are “insisting on clear, comparable assessments,” and “now is the time to stay the course.”

Correcting the Record:

West Virginia Metro News, “Martirano, State Board Recommend Repeal of Common Core”: On Friday, the West Virginia Board of Education voted to initiate a 30-day review of new academic standards that would replace the West Virginia Next Generation Standards, which are based on the Common Core. West Virginia Superintendent Michael Martirano recommended the state replace its current standards with new West Virginia College and Career Ready Standards. The state legislature threatened to repeal the current standards earlier this year, but Martirano was able to convince lawmakers to allow for additional comment and review. “I remain solely committed to high quality standards for our students and teachers,” Martirano said in a statement. “These proposed new standards not only increase rigor, but also provide the groundwork to ensure our students are equipped with the skills needed for college, careers and the 21st century of work.” The changes recommended Friday will be up for approval next month.            

Where They Went Wrong: In other states that have tried to appease critics by replacing the Common Core, efforts have produced nearly identical standards. In Indiana, for example, the new standards were so similar opponents argued the rewrite was a rebranding exercise, and in South Carolina activists insist the new standards are almost identical to the ones they replaced. Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, explains, “It’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.” However, replacing West Virginia’s Common Core standards will create uncertainty in classrooms. Officials should consider the troubles in Oklahoma, the only state to replace the Common Core with markedly different standards, before they pull the rug out from under teachers, students and parents.     

Boston Herald,  “Common Core Is Setting Our Students Back”: Calling Common Core State Standards an extension of No Child Left Behind and a federal “one-size-fits-all education approach,” columnist Holly Robichaud says the public should “help the next generation” by voting for a ballot initiative that seeks to repeal Massachusetts’ Common Core standards. “This battle is not about testing and standards. It is about lowering the federal level.” Since adopting the Common Core, “student achievement is on the decline,” the piece claims. Drawing comparisons to ObamaCare, Robichaud says, “Our state adopted the federal program over a working Massachusetts system…without much input from the public or even the Legislature.” “As if lowering our standards was not bad enough, Common Core/PARCC collects over 400 pieces of personal information from each student, such as family income, religion and disciplinary history, that is shared without parental permission.” 

Where They Went Wrong: States like Massachusetts voluntarily adopted Common Core State Standards because they raise academic expectations for all students and allow for greater comparability among states, districts and schools. And states are overwhelmingly sticking with the Common Core because it’s working. Early adopters like Kentucky and Tennessee have achieved some of the biggest academic gains in the country, and a Scholastic study last year found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the standards saw a gains in students’ critical thinking and analytical skills. Contrary to Robichaud’s claim, Common Core Standards have no impact on states’ student data policies, and if states were to repeal the Common Core it would have no impact on what kind of data states collect or how they use it.

On Our Reading List:

Denver Post“How Colorado Is Proposing to Deal with Low Participation Rates”: After a high percentage of students opted out of state assessments this year, the Colorado Department of Education is working with federal authorities to address the issue. In the latest No Child Left Behind waiver request, the State Board of Education said it will not use participation rates to determine districts’ or schools’ accountability ratings. Instead, state officials propose that schools and districts with low participation will have to provide improvement plans to increase rates, which have already been submitted. The state will also provide information that can be disseminated to families about how results are used and why tests are administered.

New Orleans Advocate, “In New Spat, Some Backers Think ‘Common Core’ Term Is Outdated, Say Phrase Is Politically Radioactive”: In Louisiana, some supporters of the state’s Common Core standards say the term “Common Core” is outdated and should be retired. “We are in the process of revising those standards, so next year our students will have the Louisiana state standards,” says Holly Boffy, a member of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. “[Supporters] want to change how people refer to it so that it is not toxic,” says Rep. Brett Geymann, an outspoken critic of the Common Core. “People can still use [the term “Common Core”] for political purposes, but the reality is we have set a system to review the standards and we will end up with something that is Louisiana standards,” says Chas Roemer, president of the BESE. 

Education Week“Common Core’s Big Test: Tracking 2014-15 Results”: The past academic year “marked a big change for many states” as they switched to tests aligned to Common Core State Standards. The article provides an interactive map with state score reports to-date. It notes, year-to-year results show “growth or decline in achievement,” but “when a state switches to a new test, first-year results can’t be used to compare achievement to that of previous years.” “We offer these results because of the high-profile warnings that proficiency rates would drop on the new tests. What that means in each state that experienced a drop is a story unique to that state.”