News You Can Use:

Collaborative for Student Success, “Breaking Up with My iPhone Calculator, and Other Math Thoughts”: While some confusing math problems have left parents scratching their heads, and provide fodder for critics to attack Common Core State Standards, changes to classroom instruction are intended to help students understand “the why behind math,” writes Jim Cowen. “There is a strong rationale for this shift in approach…understanding math at the foundational level will help students later on with more complex math.” “It’s so much easier to do the harder problems when you really understand the basics,” adds Hemant Mehta, a former math teacher. “Most people never understand the basics. They think they do. But they don’t.” Shifts in instruction happening under the Common Core help “foster analytical skills that will help children sort out all sorts of situations,” Cowen notes. “We need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable,” which can be tough for parents who learned math under different models but will help “children not just understand math, but learn to love it.”

What It Means: By introducing students to multiple problem-solving approaches, Common Core State Standards help students develop a stronger understanding of numbers and functions necessary to succeed at high levels of learning. Brett Berry, a math teacher and author, explains that even some problems that may appear confusing on their surface help students comprehend the mechanics of math. In response to a recent viral question, Berry says, “It’s more important than ever for students to understand the difference between equal as a result and equivalent in meaning from a young age because it is a fundamental computer science concept.” Respect teachers, Berry says. “Ask them why they did something before you slam and discredit them on the Internet.”

New Orleans Advocate, “Despite Campaign Vows, Both Vitter and Edwards Face Obstacles to Scrap Common Core”: Louisiana gubernatorial candidates David Vitter and John Bel Edwards have pledged to uproot the state’s Common Core standards, but doing so will be “a huge challenge.” “The makeup of [the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education] and the rules for making major changes mean that both candidates face major obstacles if they are going to fulfill their campaign promises,” the article reports. “All six races decided in the Oct. 24 primary produced winners who back the Common Core Standards, or something like them.” “You look at the makeup of the board, and it is people who support Common Core,” says Linda Johnson, a former BESE member. “The people have spoken on that issue.” In a separate piece, Jeff Sadow, an associate professor at LSU, writes “Common Core is here to stay…The ideologues who demand increased spending on education with weaker measures to improve performance want to avoid the change needed to invigorate a system that, for decades, saddled Louisiana’s children with among the worst educations in the country.”

What It Means: While the term “Common Core” may still serve as a rallying cry for a subset of voters, the results from Louisiana’s State Education Board elections add to the evidence that shows parents and the public continue to overwhelmingly support high, consistent education standards. “The vocal minority’s attempts to ignite opposition to the Common Core State Standards among voters largely flopped,” Karen Nussle explains in a recent memo. “Now that Louisiana voters have spoken so strongly, it will be interesting to see where the two gubernatorial candidates stand.”

 Beckley Register Herald, “West Virginia High Court Denies Common Core Petition”: The West Virginia Supreme Court denied a petition that challenged the state’s adoption of Common Core State Standards and its involvement in the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The petition “takes issue with the standards and assessment tools adopted by the Board, but that grievance is not one that can or should be settled in a court of law,” wrote attorneys for the State Board of Education. Representatives of the Board of Education previously called the case a “purely political attack.” “The Supreme Court’s dismissal affirmed the position of the West Virginia Board of Education regarding Delegate Folk’s challenge,” Board President Mike Green said in a statement. “We are grateful we can return our focus to driving education forward with decisions serving the best interest of our students and teachers.”

What It Means: Unable to successfully repeal Common Core State Standards through legislative channels, opponents have turned to backdoor tactics. The West Virginia Supreme Court’s decision calls those out, and reaffirms the state-led nature of the push for rigorous, comparable academic expectations. As Karen Nussle wrote this fall, states have passed a new milestone in the effort to raise education standards by administering high-quality assessments aligned to them. “For parents and educators, that should come as a welcome change. It means they are finally receiving accurate information about how well their kids are really doing. Instead of inflating scores, states are testing to levels that reflect what students need to graduate high school ready for the real world.”

Correcting the Record:

Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Did the Common Core Lead to Nation’s Math and Reading Decline on NAEP?”: Following the release of the latest NAEP results, which showed declines in math and reading scores, critics have been quick to try to pin blame to the implementation of Common Core State Standards. “The 2015 NAEP data makes clear that the [Common Core] is badly failing students,” said Jamie Gass, director of the Pioneer Institute. Yet, a report by a NAEP panel and the American Institutes for Research found low “math rates” in concepts between NAEP and Common Core Standards. Forty-two percent of Common Core expectations in grades 6, 7 and 8 are not covered by NAEP. “One year does not make a trend,” explained Chris Minnich, director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, pointing out that changes in education policy take time. Reaction among state policymakers has been mixed, the article reports, though many Ohio lawmakers blame the transition to new standards, if not the standards themselves.

Where They Went Wrong: While the snapshot of student readiness provided by the latest NAEP results is disappointing, the findings shouldn’t be confused with a long-term trend. As several of the experts quoted in the article correctly point out, states are in the midst of a transition. Three-quarters of states only began implementing higher education standards “barely a year ago,” a statement by the Collaborative for Student Success notes, and nearly every state is working to implement high-quality assessments to measure progress. “In the midst of this, declining scores should not be a surprise,” and bright spots within the data show “that when educators and policymakers focus on a specific goal…that can have remarkable impact.”

Metro West Daily News, “Common Core ‘Dumbs Down’ Curriculum”: Previous education reform efforts in Massachusetts positioned the state as a leader in education, and implementation of Common Core State Standards could undo those gains, writes Pamela Staffier, a Westborough resident. “Common Core, federal regulation standards that dictate what to teach and when, have resulted in a ‘dumbing down’ of the educational curriculum. Common Core has eroded the hard-won gains that the ’93 Education Reform Act had won…We need to give parents, teachers and voters a choice and a voice. We need to raise our standards once again. We cannot throw away the hard work of the past 20 years. Our children deserve better.”

Where They Went Wrong: While Massachusetts has long had some of the highest academic expectations, the state chose to adopt Common Core State Standards because of their promise to fully prepare students for college and careers and to compare progress to other states. After years of preparation, about half of students took tests aligned to these higher standards this year. A recent Mathematica report finds those PARCC assessments provide a “significantly better” predictor of students’ college-readiness, and students who met proficiency benchmarks on those exams were less likely to require college remediation than those who met the same levels on the state’s old MCAS tests.

On Our Reading List:

Washington Post, “We Don’t Test Students as Much as People Think We Do. And the Stakes Aren’t Really That High”: President Obama’s statement late last month that schools over test students does “pretty much nothing” and ignores “some important truths,” writes Kevin Huffman, former Tennessee education commissioner. “First, students are tested less than many people believe. Second, in places where students spend too much time taking tests, local schools and districts – not federal or state policies – tend to be the culprit. And third, the notion of standardized tests as ‘high stakes’ is vastly overstated.” Misperceptions of testing have largely been driven by “anti-testing activists” joined by “teachers unions and other reform opponents.” “Contrary to the exaggerations, though, most states already are under the 2 percent testing cap,” Huffman explains. “There are literally no states that use only test scores in their [teacher] evaluations…Claims of massive stakes driven by federal or state law are overwrought.”

Memphis Commercial Appeal, “Mixed Bag of news on Testing Front”: The latest NAEP results show Tennessee made “essentially no progress over the last two years” but still fared better than “a lot of other states” whose scores decreased. “Of course, no one in a position to decide the matter is advocating the elimination of all standardized testing, nor should they,” the editorial notes. “But it has become an indisputable argument that too much testing has taken too much time away from more useful instruction and that too much reliance has been placed on testing in the assessment of teachers’ competency. The [Obama] administration’s admission that testing has gone too far is welcome news to educators and families alike.”