News You Can Use:

Associated Press, “Help for Homework Help: Teaching Parents Common Core Math”: Amid changes to math instruction happening in classrooms, schools across the country are providing outreach to parents to help unlock “the secrets of Common Core math.” The article highlights a “Parents Can Help with Math” series in Westerly, RI, hosted by local teachers, in which parents are introduced to multiple approaches to solve basic math problems. “We want to develop flexible thinking, so if [students] hit a roadblock they have multiple places they can go,” explains Polly Gillie, principal of Dunn’s Corner Elementary School. “It all comes back to real-world application and mental math.” Parents “have a misunderstanding of Common Core,” says Julie Holmes, a district administrator in Wisconsin. But adds Gillie, with help from teachers, most are “like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this makes total sense.’”

What It Means: The article reflects the resources that teachers and school administrators across the country are providing to help parents familiarize themselves with the changes to math instruction happening as districts implement Common Core State Standards. Jim Cowen, deputy director of the Collaborative for Student Success, explains that while a number of confusing questions that have gone viral have caused alarm for some parents, the changes are aimed to ensure children have a solid understanding of basic skills, so that they’re better prepared to tackle higher level learning later on. “Let’s focus on helping parents – help their children not just understand math, but learn to love it.”

Huffington Post, “National Assessment: What the Latest Results Should Tell Us”: Knee-jerk reactions “to panic or to scoff” at the latest NAEP results are unhelpful in understanding and improving education systems, writes Dr. Michael Feuer. “For one thing, a two-point drop during a two-year period, though ‘statistically significant,’ doesn’t exactly constitute a trend,” the piece notes. “We should also keep in mind that the 2015 averages, in both math and reading and at both grade levels, are significantly higher than in the early 1990s.” The piece also attributes the drop in part to transitions and “upheaval in schools and schooling.” “We need to ask whether we’d be better off without an assessment program that keeps a steady hand on the helm while our educational ship steams along through choppy seas.” Dr. Feuer concludes, “Let’s use this month’s NAEP data not as a reason to panic, but rather as an invitation to reflect about what they mean and what we should or could be doing differently in our vast and complex school system.” Separately, Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, tells Education Week, “It’s unfair to say the Common Core had anything to do with these scores going down… You just can’t tell that from the NAEP data.”

What It Means: While the latest NAEP results are disappointing, they shouldn’t be extrapolated to attack states’ efforts to implement high education standards and high-quality assessments. In fact, the results “underscore the importance of clear, consistent learning goals and assessments that raise the bar for all students,” Karen Nussle says in a recent statement. Like Feuer and Loveless, Nussle says, “It would be a mistake to equate these results with a long-term trend…Three-quarters of states only began fully implementing higher standards barely a year ago; a 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.”

Boston Globe, “MCAS Standards Aren’t Good Enough for Today’s World”: As Massachusetts officials consider whether to use PARCC or MCAS tests, the “choice should be obvious,” write Richard Freeland and John Davis. Assessments aligned to benchmarks developed “20 years ago” are “not good enough in today’s highly competitive and increasingly globalized business environment,” the piece states. Thirty-seven percent of Massachusetts high-school graduates who took the MCAS require remediation in college, as do 65 percent of community college students. “These deficiencies amount to an economic death sentence for our students…PARCC exams were developed to measure the skills students need to be ready for success at the post-secondary level…We will be making a grave mistake if we grow complacent and fail to push ourselves to the next level.”

What It Means: While Massachusetts officials must determine what test best fits their schools’ needs, evidence indicates PARCC assessments provide better information about student readiness. A Mathematica report finds that PARCC assessments provide a “significantly better” predictor of students’ college-readiness, and students who met proficiency benchmark on those exams were less likely to require college remediation than those who met the same levels on the state’s old MCAS tests. The Boston Globe editorial board reiterated those findings last month, writing, “PARCC promises to provide even better educational results for Massachusetts students.”

Correcting the Record:

Wall Street Journal, “Financial Woes Plague Common Core Rollout”: Five years after most states began implementing Common Core State Standards, several have repealed or amended them “for reasons both financial and political.” “One reason is that Common Core became a hypercharged political issue…But politics isn’t the only reason for the turmoil,” Michael Rothfeld writes. “Many school districts discovered they didn’t have enough money to do all they needed to do. Some also found that meeting deadlines to implement the standards was nearly impossible.” The article reports more than $7 billion has been spent or committed nationwide to implement the new standards, though that does not account for what would have been spent anyway. “But after a burst of momentum and a significant investment of money and time, the movement for commonality is in disarray,” with several states making changes to the standards and opting for independent student assessments. Still, many experts believe the push for higher standards is working. “This decade will ultimately result in higher expectations and academic standards that are better than what they were before,” says Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute.

Where They Went Wrong: Contrary to the article’s claim the Common Core is in “disarray,” all but one of the 45 states to initially adopt Common Core State Standards continue to use them, or a very similar set of standards. While the term “Common Core” has become politicized, the public very much supports high standards – and states that have caved to this political pressure, like Oklahoma, have incurred even greater costs and uncertainty. The Common Core State Standards were always meant to be a model set of standards, and states that are further building on the Common Core framework are using that model exactly as it was designed. As Louisiana State Superintendent John White explains, “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline…and that is a fantastic success for each state and for America and its children.” The article also includes a Wall Street Journal analysis of how much money states and districts have spent implementing the new standards and expressly states that many of those funds would have been spent anyway. Rothfeld also overlooks the fact that states would have updated their standards, curriculum and professional development with or without the development of the Common Core – all of which would have contributed to costs associated with education.

On Our Reading List:

Education Next, “America’s Mediocre Test Scores”: In response to some experts’ assertions that the recent drop in NAEP scores is attributable to poverty, Brandon Wright and Michael Petrilli write that while “poverty is a major factor in lackluster academic performance,” it’s incorrect to say America’s average scores are dragged down by particularly poor performance of low-income students, or that advantaged students are doing just fine. “Poverty can’t explain away America’s lackluster academic performance. That excuse, however soothing it may be to educators, politicians, and social critics, turns out to be a crutch that’s unfounded in evidence. We need to stop using it and start getting serious about improving the achievement of all the nation’s students.”

Asbury Park Press, “PARCC More Politics than Education”: The purpose of setting proficiency levels higher on PARCC assessments is to reinforce the perception that states like New Jersey have raised their education standards, so “there are no conclusions to be drawn from the lower scores,” the editorial board writes. While district, school and individual score reports will offer a “valuable contribution,” the tests are “as much about politics as education.” That officials waited until after statewide scores were available to set cut scores “greatly politicizes the process.” “Now, either choice will reek of an underlying agenda…PARCC scores will have value – but only as a no-stakes reference point for at least the next few years. Using results for anything beyond that isn’t about education at all.”

Greenville News, “Bill Gates at Clemson: U.S. Education Reform ‘Frustrating’”: During a speech at Clemson University on Monday, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates said if students are frustrated with a lack of change in education policy they should “go into a charter school” to see quality change. Gates defended Common Core State Standards as “an amazing advance,” saying they will create greater commonality in education and better prepare students for college and careers. “The whole math path needs to be improved,” Gates added, saying “it really doesn’t make any sense” for each state to have different expectations in learning goals.