News You Can Use:

Chalkbeat New York, “Tisch Urges Cuomo to Stick with the Common Core Despite the Backlash”: New York’s outgoing Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who announced she will step down last week, urged Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday to preserve the state’s tougher education standards and assessments. In a radio interview, Tisch said Gov. Cuomo “believes in high standards, he believes in testing,” but is also “hearing a lot of noise in the background” from teachers’ unions and some parents. “I understand that people are putting enormous pressure to roll back, to stand still, to do a moratorium,” Tisch said. “I would just hope that when they push back, that no one panics…I suspect once the fight over teacher evaluations gets settled, we will see less anger over the standards and quite frankly over an accountability system.” She added that student assessments should support teacher performance. “I never believed that you can fire your way to success.”

What It Means: Chancellor Tisch’s full-throated support of New York’s standards underscores the importance of high, consistent learning goals and high-quality assessments to equip students for college and careers. As the Honesty Gap analysis found, New York has made big improvements in providing parents and educators with accurate information about student readiness. After implementing Common Core State Standards and high-quality tests, the state’s proficiency benchmarks are now more rigorous than NAEP, ensuring families that, when their child meets those targets, they are ready for the next step. By taking the politically expedient route and going back on that work, the state would put students at a disadvantage and reinforce a system that wasn’t working.

US News & World Report, “Parents, Go Back to Math Class”: America’s school systems need a “better approach to teaching math,” and outreach programs to help parents understand change happening in the classroom is an important step to “help kids succeed,” writes Ulrich Boser, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “For decades, schools took a largely mechanical approach to teaching math, and students suffered through repetitive problem sets that didn’t do enough to emphasize deep understanding…Common Core Standards offer a new approach to math that emphasizes more conceptual forms of understanding.” That shift will help students develop the critical thinking and problem solving skills they need in the real world. Math nights and other outreach programs help parents familiarize themselves with these changes. “A lot of pushback on Common Core comes from not understanding its goals or when it’s not presented properly,” Boser’s daughter’s teacher explains. “So we try to present it properly and are generally met with favorable feedback.”

What It Means: In schools and districts across the country, educators are conducting outreach to help parents understand the changes to instruction happening under Common Core State Standards. As Boser points out, new approaches to math are designed to help students develop a conceptual understanding of numbers and functions, better preparing them for higher level content. A Collaborative for Student Success blog 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.” 

Frederick News Post, “PARCC Scores Disconcerting but Predictable”: The results from the first administration of PARCC assessments in Maryland are “disappointing,” but they “also provide invaluable information on what and how severe student deficiencies in math and language are.” “These new standards are rigorous in comparison with the ones they replaced, so disappointing test scores in the initial years of these new curriculum challenges shouldn’t be that surprising,” the editorial board writes. “These first test scores are a baseline from which to proceed…Rather than blaming the test or the new, rigorous state standards, educators should accept these first scores for what they are, and work to improve them…We believe Maryland’s students and teachers are up to the challenges that the Common Core State Standards present, and expect to see PARCC scores steadily rising in the years ahead.”

What It Means: The editorial does a good job of explaining the changes in student test scores and emphasizing the value of raising expectations for students. As Karen Nussle points out in a recent memo, “States are finally measuring to levels that reflect what students need to know and be able to do” to succeed in college and careers. “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.”

Correcting the Record:

Breitbart News, “Cost of Rushing into Common Core Now a ‘Plague’ to States”: States rushed into adopting Common Core State Standards “sight unseen” and with “no vetting,” Susan Berry writes in response to a recent Wall Street Journal article that alleges the costs of implementing the new standards has attributed to pushback against them. Berry cites two outspoken critics who say Common Core is “dead” and “crashing.” “With many states repealing or rewriting Common Core and exiting the federally funded test consortia, it turns out ‘Common Core’ isn’t quite so common any longer,” Berry states. “Indeed, Common Core has grown to be such a ‘plague’ that some supporters of the initiative – like Chamber of Commerce and other business groups as well as some governors – have stopped using the name,” instead referring to “higher standards,” even though “there has been no independent research conducted to prove Common Core is, in fact, ‘higher.’”

Where They Went Wrong: Like the recent Wall Street Journal article, Berry’s assertion that Common Core State Standards are in peril conflicts with the reality on the ground. By all objective measures, states are overwhelmingly continuing to implement the Common Core and building on its framework, indicating the standards are here to stay. This year, states marked an important milestone by administering tests aligned to rigorous standards, and there is now greater comparability between states and districts than ever before. 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.”   

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Arizona Republic, “Test Scores Plummeted – Except in Arizona”: While NAEP scores fell in most states, Arizona students “closed the gap with the very top states,” making gains in three of the four test subjects, write Matthew Ladner of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Lisa Graham Keegan, former Arizona state superintendent. Educators “raised the bar academically,” and “achievement has improved substantially since the last pre-recession measures in 2007,” the authors state. “Led by a solid sector of excellent public schools – both district and charter, both rich and poor – Arizona has closed the gap with the very top states. This years’ NAEP results cap a sustained trend of general improvement in academic results in our home state.” Policymakers should continue to build on the policies that are working the piece concludes. “Shakespeare’s Henry V would urge us to summon up the blood and fight on.”

Washington Post, “Hundreds of Common Core Test Questions Have Just Been Made Public. Can You Solve Them?”: The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers has made public the equivalent of a full test’s worth of questions for each grade level and subject that were given to students earlier this year. The questions demonstrate the changes from old multiple-choice tests and often require students to explain how they reached an answer. PARCC officials said they hope to make the test less mysterious for parents and give teachers tools to better understand what students are expected to know. “This is a great opportunity to be transparent so assessment isn’t a black box,” said Laura Slover, the group’s CEO.

Chicago Tribune, “School Districts Swap Traditional A’s and B’s for Standards-Based Grading”: Several school districts throughout Illinois are moving to a standards-based grading system in place of traditional letter grades. “We’re trying to provide a more accurate reflection of what students know and are able to do,” says Michael Berrie, a district director of teaching and learning. Administrators attribute the change in part to implementation of Common Core State Standards. New report cards will replace overall subject grades with individual scores for skills and concepts school officials deem as a priority, based on a 1 to 4 scale. “It is a very positive step toward communicating so parents can provide support and understand specifically how they can help children at home,” says Joan Brixey, a district associate superintendent.

Washington Post, “What the Drop in NAEP Math Scores Tells Us about Common Core and NAEP”: The drop in math scores on the most recent NAEP tests may be attributable in part to “a disconnect between Common Core and NAEP,” like probability and statistics being taught in later grades, says Sarah Lubienski, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “On the one hand, these patterns point to the Common Core Standards as a factor in the score drop. On the other hand, those using the small, one- to two-point NAEP drop to condemn Common Core and all recent policies might be missing the point…More generally, this brief history of mathematics education reform and NAEP trends raises the question of how much improvement one can expect on any assessment over the long haul.”

Associated Press, “Tests Are Linked to Teacher Reviews, Study Finds”: A study by the National Council on Teacher Quality finds student test scores are used, at least in part, in teacher evaluations in 42 states and the District of Columbia. Six years ago only 15 states linked scores to teacher reviews. “No policy has seen such a dramatic transformation as teacher evaluation,” the report states. For 18 states, student growth is an overriding factor. California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska and Vermont has no formal state policy requiring teacher evaluations consider student achievement. Alabama, New Hampshire and Texas have “policies that exist on paper,” but the study returned little evidence those states use test scores in evaluations. “The most basic reason for this shift was to make sure students are at the center of these conversations with teachers,” says Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

George W. Bush Institute, “Leaders on Education Reform: Why Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is Passionate about Education”: In a profile interview with Rubin Navarrette, Rev. Rodriguez says his educational experience growing up was affected by what President George W. Bush called the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” “I wanted to know: How do you help empower other Latino students,” Rev. Rodriguez says. “We still haven’t reached the proverbial tipping point where students – especially those in major cities – are learning on par with other students…If I were president, and if I were asked what was my domestic issue, this would be it – to improve the education system by raising standards. We need to revolutionize our educational system by making it all relevant to students’ lives.”