News You Can Use:

Collaborative for Student Success, Closing the Honesty Gap in the Sunshine State”: This week the Collaborative for Student Success launched an ad campaign in Florida urging state leaders to set proficiency benchmarks on assessments aligned to the state’s Common Core standards sufficiently high. “We believe parents and the public need to keep policymakers honest – not only in Florida, but in every state,” Karen Nussle explains. Disagreement over how high to set cut scores is pitting members of the Florida Board of Education, who are calling for the benchmarks to be as high as possible, against groups representing teachers and superintendents, who argue that high scores will perpetuate failure, the memo notes. “The promise of Common Core State Standards has always been predicated not only on high standards, but also on accurate measurements of progress under those standards,” Nussle adds. “Florida’s decision to either close the Honesty Gap or, conversely, take the politically expedient route and continue on with business as usual will have implications for an entire generation of young children.”

What It Means: Over the past several years states have made efforts to close Honesty Gaps by implementing high, comparable education standards. Most states passed a new milestone this year when they administered high-quality assessments aligned to those higher expectations. If state officials expand the definition of proficiency to include students who are not prepared, it will walk back those efforts and continue to give parents and educators misleading information. As Fordham Institute President Mike Petrilli wrote last month, while the scores may be sobering, parents and teachers are finally getting honest information, which is the first step to improving student performance.

New Orleans Advocate, “Key Vote on Common Core Tests Results Set for October 13, Would Create ‘Level Playing Field,’ John White Says”: On Monday, Louisiana State Superintendent John White said a vote by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on how to set cut scores on state tests will determine whether the results are comparable to other states. “It is about the right of our kids to compete on a level playing field with kids across the country,” White said. Statewide results from assessments aligned to the state’s Common Core standards will be released October 12. The following day the BESE will approve proficiency benchmarks. “If they try to lower expectations, then I think it would say something very sad about the direction of our states,” White added. “You are going to see our strengths and weaknesses in a very honest way.”

What It Means: White underscores the importance of setting proficiency benchmarks at levels that truly reflect student readiness. Over the past several years, states have taken strides to close Honesty Gaps by adopting rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments. If states set cut scores low, they will again overstate how well prepared students are, giving teachers and parents less-than-accurate information about their children’s development. As a recent analysis by the Collaborative for Student Success explains, expanding the definition of proficiency to include students that are less-than-proficient moves states backward. White makes a strong point that students deserve a level playing field, and parents and teachers deserve an honest assessment of how their kids are doing.

Learning First Alliance, “Get It Right Podcasts: Cleveland Teachers Union”: In the latest podcast from the Learning First Alliance, Mark Baumgartner, director of professional issues at the Cleveland Teachers Union; Deborah Paden, a teacher with the Cleveland Metropolitan School District; and Sara Baldassar, a second grade teacher, discuss how Common Core State Standards promote rigorous learning. The group worked together to develop lesson plans aligned to the standards that are widely used nationwide. In Cleveland, the Common Core was implemented in waves to help students and teachers adjust, and teachers were given a year to begin writing plans, Baumgartner explains. “You have to have professional development that aligns to the standards and classroom practice.” “The big challenge has been taking everyday teachers and forming them into curriculum writers,” says Paden. “Before there were so many standards I had a difficult time focusing in and teaching them,” Baldassar adds. “Now having the Common Core, there are fewer standards but I get to dive into them deeper.” “It’s important not keeping this a secret,” Paden closes.

What It Means: The Ohio educators’ discussion highlights teachers’ and administrators’ broad support for Common Core State Standards, as well as how local authorities are leading development of curricula and materials aligned to Common Core Standards. A Center on Education Policy study found that in about two-thirds of districts, teachers are responsible for writing curricula. By giving full control of what is taught in classrooms and how teachers lead their classes, the Common Core ensures that educators are able to meet student needs and tailor materials to them. Because the standards are comparable, teachers are better able to share these practices and collaborate across district and state lines.


Correcting the Record:

Las Vegas Review Journal, “Common Core: Totally Unprepared, Full Speed Ahead”: Glenn Cook, senior editorial writer for the paper, acknowledges that Common Core State Standards are “not a federal curriculum” and “subject to state and local control,” but says schools are “clearly not prepared” to implement the standards. “Teachers are frustrated, students are frustrated, and parents are infuriated because, especially in math, they find themselves unable to help with basic homework,” Cook writes. New techniques are “brutal” for students who learned math the old way, the piece adds. “The standards actually push back the introduction of some concepts, from division to algebra. That means delayed mastery of skills, if they’re mastered at all.” Cook identifies a lack of teacher development and textbooks aligned to the standards as two main problems. “We’re moving ahead with new national standards even though all teachers aren’t adequately trained and textbooks aren’t available…It’s perfectly understandable why so many parents assume this is a federal initiative. This has Washington screw-up written all over it.”

Where They Went Wrong: Cook’s analysis ignores educators’ ongoing work to develop material and curricula aligned to Common Core State Standards. A study last fall found that in roughly two-thirds of districts in Common Core states, teachers have developed or are developing their own curricular materials in math and English Language Arts. While Cook posits that new math techniques confuse students and parents, the Common Core introduces multiple problem-solving methods in order to build stronger conceptual understanding, which better prepares students for high levels of learning. The standards also provide a clear progression of learning, to help ensure students develop strong fundamental skills to build on. 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.

The Saratogian, “Region’s Catholic Schools Step Back from Common Core”: At an October 2 news conference, officials from the diocesan Catholic Schools Office in Albany, NY, announced Catholic schools in the region will “step back” from using assessments aligned to Common Core State Standards. Beginning this year, local Catholic schools will administer state exams aligned to Common Core State Standards only in grades 3, 5 and 7 to serve as a longitudinal measure of development. The Catholic schools will use the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for all students in grades 3 through 8 in November. Catholic Schools Superintendent Michael Pizzingrilllo said the negative perception of New York’s Common Core-aligned assessments detracted from their purpose. “Although the standards of the Common Core itself are good, the collateral pieces have caused great strife for families and teachers alike. It’s time to put a renewed focus back on our students where it belongs.”

Where They Went Wrong: The article suggests that New York’s Catholic schools have stepped back from the Common Core, but in fact school officials reiterated the strength of the standards. In reality, the schools have decided to utilize the current state exams as a form of grade span testing and move toward the Iowa Test of Basic Skills for all students on a yearly basis. As Louisiana State Superintendent John White explained this summer, even if schools choose independent tests, they will measure high expectations and provide some comparability, so schools will be able to evaluate their students’ progress toward college and career readiness, relative to others across the state and country.


On Our Reading List:

Newark Star-Ledger, “When Will PARCC Scores Come Out in New Jersey?”: New Jersey officials announced this week the results from PARCC assessments administered for the first time this spring will be made available around the middle of October. “A lot of work and details still need to be hammered out,” said David Saenz, a spokesman for the State Department of Education. “We are looking forward to seeing how well we are doing compared to other states,” said Patricia Boland, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in Livingston, NJ.

Buffalo News, “High-Stakes Testing, Common Core Focus of Education Forum”: Carol Burris and Diane Ravitch, both outspoken opponents of the Common Core, will participate in an education forum at Niagara Falls High School tonight. The event is called, “Public Education Now: Reform, Resistance and Solution in New York State.” The forum will include discussion on the impact of Common Core State Standards and related assessments, the opt-out movement, and local control issues, the article reports. At a similarly billed forum on Monday, Burris criticized the task force launched by Gov. Andrew Cuomo as a “sham” and called on parents to refuse state standardized tests.