News You Can Use:

Education Post, “Can the Truth about Testing Set Us Free?”: Student assessments are a way for teachers and parents alike to “find out if our kids are on track,” even though they may “reveal a reality that isn’t so appealing,” writes Jessica Moore, a fifth-grade teacher in Colorado. Tests aligned to high academic expectations “reflect what skills students will need to succeed.” Blaming the tests for low student performance “doesn’t fix anything,” Moore adds. “Instead, it contributes to the misinformation that’s been dubbed an ‘honesty gap,’” which ultimately hurts students in the long run. Results from tests aligned to Common Core State Standards provide teachers with a tool to better gauge student readiness and set an honest baseline for achievement. “The test won’t dictate my teaching style or materials,” Moore adds. “All we have to do is stay the course and trust in the results: They give us guidance for the future.”

What It Means: As Moore points out, for a long time states inflated proficiency rates and other measures of student preparedness by using tests that lowered the bar for students. As a result, teachers and families were told their kids were on a path of college- and career-readiness when in fact they may not have been. The upshot was that many students graduated high school only to find out they need college remediation or job training. Most states have turned the chapter by implementing rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments. Karen Nussle wrote earlier this fall, “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do to succeed in college or a career…For parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change.”

Learning First Alliance, “Ohio Teacher & PTA Leader: Communicating Common Core Is Essential”: Debbie Tidwell, former president of the Ohio Parent Teacher Association, and Sue Grodek, a first-grade teacher in Brooklyn, Ohio, say Common Core “is just how we’re doing business these days.” “From my experience, most districts, including my own, have already updated their curriculum,” says Grodek. “From my perspective, most of the work is already done. Common Core Standards is how we teach.” “The promise of new standards is that they are clearer…and they prepare [students] for college and career readiness no matter where they live,” Tidwell adds. New assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards are “no longer dependent on memorization” and educators and school leaders within Ohio have worked to communicate changes to parents. “There have been a lot of myths circulating across the country and our own state that have politicized Common Core, but have nothing to do with Common Core,” Tidwell says.

What It Means: Grodek and Tidwell highlight the impact Common Core State Standards are having in classrooms by holding all students to expectations that prepare them for college and careers. A Scholastic study last fall found more than two-thirds of teachers who worked closely with the Common Core saw an improvement in their students’ critical thinking and reasoning skills. Most states passed an important milestone this year by giving assessments that reflect the skills and knowledge students need. Fordham Institute President Mike Petrilli explains, while the results may be “sobering,” parents should “resist the siren song of those who want to use this moment of truth to attack the Common Core or associated tests.”

America Achieves, “Common Core Doesn’t Inhibit Creativity”: Common Core State Standards provide educators “the freedom to be flexible and creative in their instruction” and “encourage students to develop their critical thinking skills in order to obtain deeper levels of understanding,” writes Mike Lerchenfeldt, a Michigan Educator Voice fellow. “The critical thinking skills students develop in our classrooms are essential… Using texts of my own choosing, I push students to comprehend and reflect on what they read,” the piece explains. Walking through examples of lessons and problem-solving exercises, which teach students to “conduct research, gather data, and draw conclusions based on evidence,” the piece concludes, “The Common Core allows teachers to be flexible enough to utilize teaching models like Project Based Learning to meet the needs of our students.”

What It Means: By setting high learning goals and giving teachers full control over how best to achieve them, Common Core State Standards provide teachers flexibility to meet student needs. That’s one reason why, like Lerchenfeldt, educators continue to overwhelmingly support the Common Core. A Scholastic study last fall found more than 80 percent of teachers who worked with the Common Core were enthusiastic about implementation. Likewise, a study conducted by the National Network of State Teachers of the Year found many of the country’s top teachers believe assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards better measure student development and more closely align with what is taught in classrooms.

Correcting the Record:

Nashua Telegraph, “Common Core Proves Wrong”: New Hampshire’s results from tests aligned to Common Core State Standards come after “children have already moved on,” and states’ decisions to use independent tests mean New Hampshire officials won’t be able to compare scores to other states, writes Ann Marie Banfield, the education liaison for Cornerstone Action, a think tank in Manchester. Calling the new tests “cognitive child abuse,” Banfield quotes Stephen Wilson, a math professor: “Conceptualization of mathematical understanding on which SBAC will base its assessments is deeply flawed. The consortium focuses on the mathematical practices of the Common Core State Standards at the expense of content, and they outline plans to assess communication skills that have nothing to do with mathematical understanding.” “No school should be judged on the poor results, and no child should be considered ‘not proficient’ and told they are not succeeding,” Banfield concludes. “This is one big setup for failure for our schools, teachers and children.”

Where They Went Wrong: States like New Hampshire adopted tests aligned to Common Core State Standards because they provide honest information about how well prepared students are, which gives educators the opportunity to provide students with the support they need. The article says that each state sets their own cut scores, which is only technically true. Every SBAC state agreed on the performance standards that all states would use after a highly inclusive standard-setting process. While it is true that each state must approve that decision, each SBAC state has already done so. Finally, National Urban League President Marc Morial wrote this year that high standards and accurate assessments “will help bridge the achievement gap by leveling the playing field so that all students, regardless of race, geography or income, have an equal shot at gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed.” Similarly, John White, Louisiana’s State Superintendent, explains, “State 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.”

National Review, “A New Bipartisan Education Bill Curbs Obama-Era Overreach”: Writing on the Congressional reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, Frederick Hess describes Common Core State Standards as a “federal adventure.” “Indeed, one can read the bill as a massive, bipartisan repudiation of the Obama administration’s Washington-centric education excesses,” Hess states. “And, when it comes to the Common Core, federal officials are henceforth barred from ‘encouraging’ or ‘incentivizing’ states to adopt certain standards… Conservatives should be the party of transparency and citizen-fueled accountability, not of unaccountable federal largesse.” Hess concludes that the rewrite bill is a “happy reversal of fortune in an area where Washington has been over-extending its reach for more than a decade. It answers practical concerns about over-testing and clumsy federal mandates and strikes a ringing blow for the principle of limited government.”

Where They Went Wrong: Hess mischaracterizes how and why states adopted Common Core State Standards. Contrary to his suggestion, states voluntarily adopted the more rigorous academic expectations to ensure all students were held to levels that prepare them college and careers. Common Core State Standards were developed long before the federal Race to the Top program, and adoption of college- and career-ready standards accounted for less than 10 percent of states’ applications for federal funding. In actuality, Common Core State Standards began as and remain a state-led effort. After two national elections, all but one state, Oklahoma, continue to use the Common Core or a nearly identical set of standards, and even many of the most conservative-leaning states have rejected efforts to replace the standards. Instead, states are refining and building on the Common Core framework, exactly as it was designed.

On Our Reading List:

Daily Caller, “Common Core Is Surprisingly Invisible in the GOP Race”: Common Core State Standards, which critics once claimed would be a litmus test for conservative candidates, have received little attention in the Republican presidential primary. “Common Core, which was predicted to be a critical issue in the 2016 race, has instead proved an afterthought,” Blake Neff reports. “The issue isn’t totally invisible…But it hasn’t played the critical role in the campaign that it was expected to as a candidate ‘litmus test.’” “Everyone in the Republican field entirely agrees they would significantly reduce the federal footprint on education,” says Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute.

North Iowa Globe Gazette, “Iowa Education Board Adopts New Assessment”: On Wednesday, members of the Iowa Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt a Smarter Balanced tests to replace the Iowa Assessments, which the state administered before. Iowa public schools will begin using the new exams in 2016-17 school year. “We need to know that Iowa students are graduating from high school prepared for success, and this is an important step in the process,” said Charles Edwards, president of the Board. “Having a state assessment that is aligned to [Iowa’s Common Core] standards is critical to understanding whether students are meeting expectations.”

Associated Press, “Nevada’s Limited Common Core Testing Scores Released”: Nevada education officials released limited data from student assessments aligned to the state’s Common Core standards on Wednesday. The scores show 79 percent of eighth-grade students performed at “novice” or “developing” levels in math. About half of students scored at or above proficient in English language arts. Officials cautioned that the data can only be used for informational purposes because it represents only about a third of Nevada students. The state experienced technical problems when administering tests this spring, which prevented a large portion of the student population from completing the tests.