News You Can Use:

Boston Globe, “Education Board Votes to Adopt Hybrid MCAS-PARCC Test”: On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted 8-3 to develop a hybrid assessment that will incorporate elements of PARCC tests. The new tests will likely take as much as a year and a half to create. In the interim, districts that used PARCC tests this spring will do so again next year, and districts that administered MCAS tests can continue to use it or switch to PARCC. The Board also approved a measure to prevent schools and districts from being classified as underperforming based on test scores until 2018. “There are some very strong aspects to PARCC, which we will now adopt and incorporate into our statewide assessment,” said James Peyser, State Secretary of Education. “On the other hand, there are some very strong aspects of MCAS, which we can retain and build on.” “What we have in front of us today is a direct response from what we heard from the public, superintendents and, quite frankly, the business community,” said BESE member Katherine Craven.

What It Means: The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s decision to update its 18-year-old test with a high-quality assessment for its students will ensure students are measured to levels that reflect the skills and knowledge they need to stay on a course that prepares them for college and careers. As state education officials made clear, the new exam will incorporate the strengths of both PARCC and MCAS to ensure students’ needs are met and that parents and teachers have honest information about how their kids are doing. In a memo yesterday, Karen Nussle points out that Louisiana took a similar course of action to meet its student needs. “These announcements are part of the evolution of the testing landscape that gives states greater options to deliver 21st century, superior quality assessments focused on the skills that matter most for success in college and careers.”

Collaborative for Student Success, “Idaho Teacher Shares Her Love for Common Core Math on Facebook”: Meg Rowe, a teacher at South Junior High School in Boise, Idaho, appreciates the changes happening in her classroom because of Common Core State Standards, and she’s letting people know. “Dang I love Common Core!” Rowe writes on her Facebook page. Whereas teaching multiplication of polynomials used to take her class a week, her students “rocked it” by applying principles they learned in earlier stages of math. “We whipped through this in a day because they were able to conceptually understand the idea of splitting the areas of a rectangle into easier to compute pieces, and then finding the sum in pieces,” Rowe explains. “Is there a PURPOSE for exposing students to this kind of thinking early on? Totally! The vertical alignment here is awesome. So next time your child brings home a model you don’t understand, ask their teacher to show you why this model is being taught….I guarantee you there is deeper thinking going on you may not realize!”

What It Means: Ms. Rowe’s enthusiasm is emblematic of teachers nationwide who are seeing improvements in their students’ understanding of math through Common Core State Standards. In addition to traditional problem-solving techniques, Common Core State Standards introduce students to multiple approaches to help them comprehend the mechanics of numbers and functions. An analysis 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.” Like Ms. Rowe, teachers are seeing these changes pay off. 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.

Alliance for Excellent Education, “Core of the Matter: Kentucky’s Story of Collaboration and Student Success”: Kentucky’s success in turning around its public education system, including more than doubling the state’s college-readiness rate among graduating high school seniors, “is a story of innovation and collaboration,” writes former Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. “When the postsecondary community agreed upon a definition, measures, and benchmarks for college readiness, members of the K-12 community had specifics they could communicate to parents and students.” The state then aligned assessments to college-readiness measures “so parents and students would know each year if the student was on track.” As a result, students who have met college-readiness targets have been more successful in college, with higher average GPAs, more credit hours and more students returning for a second year. “Kentucky has a long history of education reform efforts and numerous sources of evidence that ‘staying the course’ will reap benefits for students.”

What It Means: Kentucky’s implementation of college- and career-ready education standards serves as a model for other states that are undertaking similar efforts. By back-mapping learning goals to college and career expectations, supporting educators, and addressing communications challenges early, the state successfully put into place academic expectations that fully prepare students for high levels of learning. As Holliday points out, Kentucky’s success is evidence that other states should stay the course on the push for high, comparable education standards. 

Correcting the Record:

Ed Central, “New Flexibilities on PARCC, New Opportunities to Lower the Bar for Students”: The decision by leaders of the PARCC testing consortium to allow states to use PARCC materials to tailor assessments to students’ needs isn’t “necessarily good news for the future of student achievement,” writes Abigail Swisher, an education policy research associate for New America. “We need a common measure by which to compare [states’] progress. A shared assessment system puts pressure on states to keep up with one another, and ultimately raises expectations for all. Unfortunately, if states are allowed to set their own bar and pick and choose which elements of the exam to administer, the pressure is officially off.” Swisher argues that allowing states to choose which test materials to use makes it possible to create an easier exam. The piece adds that states will lose the ability to compare results. “This rolls back a significant step towards equalizing outcomes for students by allowing states to continue to obfuscate how well they are serving students.”

Where They Went Wrong: Swisher is absolutely right that state education officials must resist the political pressure to lower academic expectations for students. As the Honesty Gap analysis made clear, the old patchwork of education standards created often large discrepancies that allowed states to set a low bar for student performance, which in turn led to high levels of students graduating high school unprepared for college or careers. However, contrary to Swisher’s conclusion, by allowing states to tailor testing options to meet their students’ needs, PARCC will help ensure states have high-quality assessments that give parents and teachers honest information and allow comparability. John White, Louisiana’s state superintendent, explains, “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.”

On Our Reading List:

Huntsville Times, “Alabama Students Rank at Bottom Nationally in Math”: Results from the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) indicate Alabama students rank at the bottom of the country in math, but scored better in English language arts. Scores for both math and reading were below national averages. “We’re not where we need to be, but we’re doing what we need to do to get there,” says Sally Smith, executive director of the Alabama Association of School Boards. “For a long time, until the last few years, we haven’t held our students to a high enough bar,” adds Thomas Rains, vice president at the A+ Education Partnership. “[The Common Core] raises the bar and encourages students to learn on a much deeper level…We’re actually giving parents and students honest feedback on where they stand.”

Arizona Daily Star, “State Schools Chief to Hold Two Public Sessions in Tucson”: Arizona State Superintendent Diane Douglas will host two public forums in Tucson this week as part of what she calls a “We Heard You” tour. During the forums, which will be held today and Thursday, Douglas is expected to discuss a range of education issues, including the state’s Common Core standards. Douglas has been an outspoken critic of the Common Core and has pledged to replace Arizona’s standards. Both meetings are open to the public.