News You Can Use:

Newsday, “Common Core: There’s Actually More Agreement Than You Think”: Supporters and opponents of Common Core State Standards “actually agree on much more than we disagree on,” including that America’s school systems need to better prepare students for a competitive economy, writes Carmel Martin, executive vice president at the Center for American Progress. Yet, 30 years after 1983’s “Nation at Risk” report, only about a third of students are proficient in math and reading. “Before the Common Core, each state designed its own standards, resulting in 50 different definitions of academic success,” Martin notes. Common Core State Standards create greater continuity and “established higher and deeper” expectations. “Today, schools are still in transition…But the bottom line is that the Common Core addressed a vital and longstanding need to better prepare all students to graduate from high school ready for college and careers.”

What It Means: Like Martin, the Honesty Gap analysis revealed that for a long time, a patchwork of education standards and proficiency definitions allowed states to inflate indicators of how well prepared their students were. As a result, many students graduated high school underprepared for college or a good job, and unaware they weren’t adequately prepared. College remediation costs families and taxpayers about $7 billion each year. By setting high, comparable learning goals for all students, Common Core State Standards ensure more students will develop the skills they need to succeed, and they give parents, teachers and policymakers the ability to measure progress relative to other states and districts.

Chalkbeat Tennessee, “Haslam Says the Future of Common Core Now Rests with Educators, Not Elected Officials”: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam told teachers on Thursday that pushback to Common Core State Standards was largely political, but the conversation has shifted back to teachers. “Unfortunately, this turned into a political conversation that was very far from the classroom,” Gov. Haslam said. “[We] knew we wanted to take what had been a political discussion, and put it in the hands of educators who can say, ‘You know, that’s really appropriate for a fourth-grader,’ or ‘that’s really not.’” In Tennessee, review of the state’s Common Core standards has been led mostly by teachers. “This is incredibly helpful,” Haslam told the “Teacher Cabinet,” a group of 18 educators nominated in June to help inform policy decisions. “[Your insight] does make a difference to us.”

What It Means: States like Tennessee demonstrate efforts policymakers and educators have made to move past rhetorical attacks against the Common Core and ensure that education standards are meeting student needs. This year most states marked a new milestone by giving tests aligned to college- and career-ready standards. Parents and educators are “finally getting accurate information about how well their kids are really doing,” Karen Nussle writes in a recent memo. States now have a responsibility to make good on those efforts by setting proficiency benchmarks adequately high to ensure students are on track for college and careers.

Educators for High Standards, “Teachers Bring Their Legislators to School”: In partnership with America Achieves State Educator Voice Fellowships, Educators for Higher Standards is helping to host a series of “Bring Your Legislator to School Days” that invite state lawmakers to sit in on classroom instruction aligned to high education standards. Happening in Colorado, Michigan and New York, the events provide an opportunity for teachers to showcase efforts to raise academic expectations for students. “BYLTSD will provide my legislator, Senator Addabbo, the opportunity to watch how educators successfully implement the Common Core Standards with diverse learning populations,” explains Lexie Woo, a fourth-grade teacher in New York. “He will have the chance to speak directly to members of our learning community, answering their questions and asking his own, creating a rich, unfiltered interaction.”

What It Means: Forums like the Bring Your Legislator to School Day provide teachers an opportunity to demonstrate the changes happening as schools implement high standards. Across the country, educators continue to overwhelmingly support Common Core State Standards, yet their voices have largely gone unheard in debates over academic expectations. 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, and more than 80 percent were enthusiastic about implementation.

Beckley Register-Herald, “Purely Political”: Policymakers in West Virginia are using “every tactic to disrupt education progress” because of an aversion to the term “Common Core,” which puts students at risk, the editorial board writes. “There are some fundamentally flawed things about eliminating the standards: No one seems to really understand them, though they are very opposed to them, and no one seems to have any idea for what standards should replace Common Core.” Earlier this year the West Virginia Supreme Court rejected a lawsuit that sought to stop the state’s participation in the Smarter Balanced testing consortium, which lawyers called a “purely political attack.” But “this battle isn’t over,” the editorial notes. “Students absolutely must develop critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills…Common Core is our best option now.”

What It Means: Increasingly, opponents of the Common Core have turned to backdoor tactics to disrupt implementation. As the editorial advocates, those efforts threaten to walk back progress to hold students to higher expectations and give parents and teachers honest information. Karen Nussle wrote this fall that states have passed a new milestone toward raising academic expectations by administering high-quality assessments. “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.”

Boston Business Journal, “Face the Future: Businesses Should Support PARCC”: For the business community, the decision between PARCC and MCAS assessments in Massachusetts is a matter of determining which “test is best at helping teachers and administrators assess whether a student is ready to graduate high school with the educational tools needed to be a productive member of the workforce, or to be ready for the rigors of higher education,” the editorial board writes. A “vocal and expanding” number of employers, educators and college administrators support PARCC because of the high population of students that have taken MCAS tests and still require remediation or job training. “The argument that PARCC somehow locks Massachusetts into adopting inferior educational standards doesn’t cut it. PARCC is more rigorous, does not set a lower bar and “will not lose local control over future versions of the test.” “Massachusetts is a national leader when it comes to education and educating its workforce, and we can better retain that reputation with the PARCC assessment.”

What It Means: The editorial makes a strong case that high-quality assessments are necessary to ensure young people develop the skills to compete in a competitive economy. By all accounts PARCC exams offer Massachusetts the best tool for measuring that progress. A Mathemetica study last month concludes that PARCC is “significantly better” than MCAS at predicting students’ readiness to earn high grades in college, and the Boston Globe editorial board says “adopting PARCC promises to provide even better educational results for Massachusetts students.”

Huffington Post, “Supporting Great Teaching During Change”: The belief that great teachers are tantamount to quality education should give policymakers who favor an updated version of the MCAS test over PARCC reason to reconsider, writes Darren Burris. High-quality assessments inform whether rigorous learning goals are met. The idea of an updated MCAS test “places the teaching and learning that teachers are planning for each day in a context of uncertainty.” Teachers have prepared for PARCC assessments, Burris says, whereas “MCAS 2.0 starts to sound like other education initiatives that come at ever increasing intervals without allowing the proper vetting and implementation.” “The Board must consider whether the increased cost incurred by an MCAS 2.0 and delay in implementation will be in the best interest of the Commonwealth… An uncertain path forward does not provide teachers the support, confidence, or clarity that allows them to do their best work.”

What It Means: Burris’ message underscores the value of high-quality assessments to support educators and instruction. Research shows PARCC assessments are “significantly better” than MCAS tests at predicting students’ likelihood to earn “B” grades in college, and students who met proficiency targets on PARCC were less likely to require college remediation than those who met the same benchmarks on the MCAS, according to a report by Mathematica Policy Research. Massachusetts officials should insist on assessments that provide parents and educators with accurate information about student readiness, which evidence suggests is PARCC.

Taunton Daily Gazette, “For Students’ Readiness, These Teachers Push for PARCC”: As the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education prepares to decide between PARCC and an updated version of the MCAS, “a test of uncertain content and format that could take years to develop,” a group of 16 state teachers say the choice should be clear: “the PARCC assessment makes good sense for students.” “We have observed consistently that the rigor of [PARCC] has a positive impact on our teaching at all grade levels,” the authors state. PARCC tests inspire “next-generation instruction” and “students reap the benefits.” Unlike old tests, PARCC measures “a level of rigor in which many in our generation did not engage until college,” which helps ensure students develop the skills they need after high school. By the same token, the MCAS test “could take years to develop, with its potential content unclear.” “The PARCC assessment is the only option that demands phenomenal teaching right now,” the piece concludes, “and that is what students in Massachusetts deserve.”

What It Means: The educator’s perspectives are supported by research that finds PARCC assessments serve as a better predictor of student readiness than MCAS tests. A Mathematica study concludes PARCC is “significantly better” at predicting students’ ability to earn “B” grades in college than the MCAS, and students who met PARCC proficiency benchmarks were less likely to require college remediation than those who met the same bar on the MCAS. As officials choose which option to use, they should ensure state tests measure students to high levels that fully prepare them for college and careers.

Correcting the Record:

Shreveport Times, “Governor Candidates Share Common Aversion to Common Core”: Louisiana gubernatorial candidates David Vitter and John Bel Edwards both expressed their intent to repeal the state’s Common Core standards if elected. “I’ve been very clear – and I don’t say this as any sort of threat, I’ve just been very clear – this has to be a sincere effort and not Common Core by another name,” Vitter said of Louisiana’s education standards review. Similarly, Bel Edwards said, “I look forward to the adoption of Louisiana education standards and I look forward to Louisiana developing an assessment to measure student performance on those standards.” Bel Edwards added that Common Core State Standards were implemented too quickly and without due process in Louisiana. Despite their opposition, either candidate faces challenges repealing the state’s education standards, the article reports. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which sets and implements education policy, is made up by a majority of Common Core supporters, and there was little turnover in the state legislature, which previously rejected efforts to repeal the state’s standards.

Where They Went Wrong: Both Vitter’s and Bel Edwards’ criticism of the state’s Common Core standards has perpetuated misleading information. Louisiana voluntarily adopted the standards and their implementation remains a state-led effort. Despite efforts by current Gov. Bobby Jindal, the legislature has repeatedly rejected efforts to repeal the standards. Louisiana Superintendent John White explained earlier this year, states like Louisiana “have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standard 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.”

On Our Reading List:

Brookings Institution, “Did the Common Core Assessments Cause the Decline in NAEP Scores?”: Examining whether PARCC or Smarter Balanced assessments explain drops in NAEP scores, Thomas Kane says the data show states that gave either of the two tests scored marginally worse, but the difference was so negligible that it does not explain the decline. The piece adds that states that did not use PARCC or Smarter Balanced also saw a fall in math scores. “One possible explanation is a short-term disruption, as schools were struggling to retool themselves to deliver on the Common Core,” Kane concludes. “Given the combination of high standards and use of many more open-ended items on the PARCC and SBAC tests…perhaps we will see an acceleration of progress of student achievement.”

Washington Post, “Less Than Half of Montgomery Students Are College Ready, New Tests Show”: Results from Maryland’s first round of assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards show nearly 40 percent of students met college-readiness markers in English, as did 30 percent for Algebra I and 20 percent for Algebra II. In Montgomery County, the percentage of students earning a score of 4 or 5, which is considered the benchmark for college-readiness, exceeded the state average. In Prince George’s County, fewer students scored in the proficient range than the state average. “This tells us the district that we have work to do to make sure all of our students are meeting the rigorous standards that Maryland has set,” said Shawn Joseph, deputy superintendent for Prince George’s County Public Schools. “We definitely expect our scores to improve over time.” The Baltimore Sun reports 46 percent of students in Howard County schools met or exceeded proficiency targets in English, 48 percent in Algebra I and less than 38 percent in Algebra II.

New Orleans Advocate, “School Leaders Back No Penalties for Skipping Common Core Exams”: The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education unveiled a plan Thursday that would exempt schools from penalties if students refrain from taking state assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards. The proposal is supported by the Superintendents’ Advisory Council and was announced by State Superintendent John White. “The principle we have settled on is stability,” White said. About 5,000 students skipped state tests earlier this year. Under the plan, Louisiana officials will use results from 2013-14 LEAP assessments for most students who missed this year’s exams. Schools where more than 10 percent of students did not participate in tests will receive the same letter grade as the previous year. “This is the fairest way to level the playing field across the state,” said Michael Faulk, superintendent of the Central Community School District.

Associated Press, “New York Common Core Panel Schedules ‘Listening Sessions’”: The task force organized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to review New York’s Common Core standards announced at least five events to gather public input on the state’s education standards. Listening sessions are scheduled in New York City, Long Island, the Finger Lakes, Hudson Valley and Albany. Members of the public will have an opportunity to deliver three minutes of testimony. On Friday, High Achievement New York sent a letter to the committee urging member to improve, not dismantle, the standards.